December 29, 2015
AT&T and the Fall of Unlimited Data
Recently, the war for wireless supremacy took a strange turn. While the bottom tier of the Big Four are desperately trying to win customers by all but giving them cash, and, in some cases, actually giving them cash, at least one major player is actually charging more for its most popular plan.
AT&T has been trying to get customers to abandon their unlimited data plans, but some have resisted. The carrier has decided that’s fine if you are willing to pay more. Last week the wireless provider said it would be raising its unlimited data plan rates from $30 to $35. Not much of a bump, but a curious move in a marketplace where they are not the top in quality and not the choice of price-conscious consumers either.
There are twin risks here, two sides of a dangerous coin. On one side are the quality conscious consumers who picked AT&T over Verizon for reasons of customer service or just on general principle. But if their current carrier starts treating them with the same assumptive disdain Verizon is infamous for, how many will stick around for the abuse when they can get the same treatment with a better signal?
On the other side of the coin are the mid-tier price-conscious folks. Those who have enough money not to go with a lesser carrier, but for whom money’s tight enough for them to think about it. Now, they may just decide the difference in quality just isn’t that much. T-Mobile or Sprint here we come!
Then again, maybe AT&T isn’t so crazy. Sure they raised their rates five bucks, but, earlier this year, Verizon raised there’s by $20. Sprint and T-Mobile also raised their unlimited data plan rates.
The culprit? All four carriers are blaming the rising costs of delivering that data to consumers. People are simply streaming too much for the carriers to keep up … at least, that’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.
Instead, carriers are offering tiered plans, which look and work like the U.S. tax code. Buy a certain plan, use up to that amount at certain speeds, use more and the speed slows down. Most folks won’t recognize it, but some will.
While it may sound like a PR time bomb, it’s really just a stopgap measure. In the not too distant future, WiFi will be nearly prevalent enough to not need data services at all. Even before then, American consumers will learn what sort of plans are available across the ocean…and American carriers may have to abandon their tiered shell game altogether.