Strong opinions, weakly held

The greed of AT&T

I’m fine with AT&T moving to a tiered pricing schedule for the data plans it offers to mobile customers. They have no obligation to offer an unlimited plan, and both of the new plans are cheaper than the old unlimited plan. The people who use a whole lot of data are going to be unhappy, but given AT&T’s capacity problems, implementing even this rudimentary version of congestion pricing should help them out a little bit.

That said, AT&T is implementing two downright customer-hostile policies that show that they look at your wallet the way BP looks at an oil reserve. The first is the extra charge for tethering. Charging $20 a month for tethering would be fine in conjunction with an unlimited data plan. Using tethering will probably increase overall data usage. But once AT&T has contracted with a customer to sell them a specific amount of bandwidth, they ought to be allowed to use that bandwidth in whatever way they choose. Despite AT&T’s arguments to the contrary, charging extra for tethering is just a way to extract more money from existing customers.

The second affront is the schedule of fees for overages on the 200 megabyte a month Data Plus plan. It seems reasonable to me that if you exceed your 200 megabyte limit for the month, AT&T should bump you up to the 2 gigabyte Data Pro plan for that month and charge you $25. That’s not the way it works. AT&T will charge you an additional $15 for every 100 megabytes you use over the limit. Felix Salmon has more.

AT&T is able to implement charges like these because of their US monopoly on the iPhone. Thanks, Apple.


  1. Considering that next-gen networks will be 100% digital (even calls will be sort of VOIP from your mobile handset), I’ve been tempted to try and start a company where the only thing you’re billed for is network usage. Count everything as minutes and be done with it.

  2. I was concerned at first too but it turns out they will send you text(?) messages when you hit 50%, 75% and 100%(?) of your plan, and as long as you upgrade to the 2G plan before your current billing cycle ends, you get that plan for the prior month. Should they do this automatically? Absolutely! But I think your comparison to BP is a stretch. Seems like they could auto-bump people up (but not down) and they would make more money when people forget to downgrade the following month to the 200M plan.

    Turns out that now that I regularly use the WiFi at work and home my 3G data usage is actually quite low. I may get the 200M plan for my wife (amazingly only 7M 19 days into the billing cycle), and the 2G plan for me (98M 19 days in).

    Agree on the tethering!

    Jason, almost all cell phone voice traffic is really digital data already. Instead of minutes you should just measure data, regardless of the type (VOIP, internet, text, whatever). It’s all just bits.

  3. P.S. I really want a 300M plan with “rollover” data like AT&T does with my voice plan (currently 4366 rollover minutes!) Then if I accidentally go over one month it’s not an issue.

  4. AT&T just guaranteed I will never get a cell phone with a data plan.

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