When I signed up for service with AT&T last week, I succumbed to doing two things I never imagined I would. I agreed to pay for a tiered data plan (with an overage fee instead of throttling) and I agreed to pay for the hotspot feature so I could use my cell phone for Internet access on my computer when Wi-Fi is either unreliable or otherwise unavailable.

I remember pointing my finger and laughing at my friend after he signed up for a $15 per month data plan with AT&T for a mere 200MB. He still has the same data plan today and has to use his data sparingly. If he goes over his 200MB limit, he will have to pay another $15 for an additional 200MB.

At the time, AT&T had just started phasing out unlimited data and pushing their new tiered plans. I was (and still am, for that matter) on a grandfathered, unlimited data plan with Verizon Wireless. Unlike my friend, I can use data on my Verizon line as I please, without the fear of ever having to pay any type of overage fee. The worst that can happen is that I could get throttled if I'm in the top five percent of Verizon data users, which would slow down my data speeds for the remainder of the billing cycle and the entire following month. But that's a small price to pay for not facing $10 per gigabyte over an already overpriced, low-gigabyte data plan.

I'm not that big of a jerk; my friend and I always laugh at each other's misfortunes. We just have that kind of friendship. (Okay, maybe I am a jerk.) But I wasn't really laughing at him. I was laughing at his data plan and how ridiculous it was. It's an insult to a smartphone user. Come on, 200MB is nothing. I can chew through that in a couple hours without even trying. I was also laughing at how right I was just a few months before when I told him he should go ahead and buy a smartphone before anything changes. (At the time I had suggested he get a smartphone, tiered data was a laughing matter, a silly rumor that none of us imagined would come true quite so soon.)

I remember bragging about my unlimited data plan and how I could actually leave my data connection on all the time, about how I was grandfathered and how I didn't have to worry about tiered data ... yet.

And here I am, just two years later signing my name on the dotted line for new service, a new number and a new device that's powered by one of those awful data plans with an illogically low cap. I'm constantly monitoring my usage, trying to see just how much I'm using, averaging how much I am using per day and hopelessly trying to project what my monthly total will be.

Only after signing up for a tiered plan have I realized that there is no decent way to plan for how much data I will use in a month. After just six days, I have used 688MB of my 5GB plan. That's only about 13.5 percent of my monthly allowance or an average of 115MB per day. Over 30 days, that would equal roughly 3.5GB. But who's to say I won't need more at some point? I have 25 days left in my billing period. On my day trip to New York for the HTC/Sprint press event, I used over 2GB without even thinking about it. That could happen again at any point.

However, that's only half of the story. A mere 3GB of data each month was never going to be enough. I'm a data-hungry consumer. In order to get more than 3GB of data, though, I had to purchase the 5GB plan, which enables hotspot feature, for $20 more per month.

As I have explained in the past, having to pay for a hotspot feature is not something I am exactly happy about. Bits are bits; one way or another, they're going to get used and your carrier shouldn't care how you use them. Customers should be allowed to use hotspot without paying $20 more per month. It's the principle of paying for the hotspot function that really gets under my skin, even if it's just an included feature in the plan I was going to purchase anyway.

The point is, we shouldn't even be dealing with data caps to begin with. As Sean Hollister of The Verge explained after the new iPad launch, carriers should "simply charge for the actual amount of data actually used — basic supply and demand — and let users throttle themselves."

While I would still be worried about how much data I use each month, it wouldn't be as looming as it is now. Instead, it would be a control thing – something I'm in charge of instead of AT&T – and I tend to deal with that more easily. Something about having a limit – even if that limit is flexible and I am simply charged a flat overage for each gigabyte – is unnerving. Paranoia is quickly setting in.

It's not exactly easy to adjust from the way T-Mobile handles their tiered data to AT&T's overage method. I used to reach and suprpass my cap on T-Mobile all the time, only to be throttled for a couple days until the billing cycle ended. Even with 87 percent of my data allotment left, I have pointlessly watched my usage like a hawk since I woke up this morning. I've done it every day this week and will probably continue to for the remainder of the month. Even though I have alerts set up within my phone's settings and on my account, I will continue to worry and watch, helplessly, as I approach my cap.

Here's to hoping tiered data is not here to stay and will eventually be replaced with a much better way of data billing. I wouldn't waste my time hoping for unlimited plans to come back in the next decade. But with more LTE networks being built and rapidly expanding, we can at least hope for competition to bring prices down and larger caps. Maybe we'll see some notable promotions for tiered plans this year. Rollover bytes would be nice. (One can dream, right?)

Until then, I will keep biting my nails as I watch my usage steadily climb every month.

How do you feel about tiered data, ladies and gents? Do you stress over it every day? Or, unlike me, do you just go about your business and not give second thought to your usage? How have you coped with not having unlimited data?

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31 Reactions to this post

"How do you feel about tiered data?"

Please limit your reaction to 140 characters or use comments for a longer reply :)
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Nathan Kendall Well I personally have a 200 MB plan with AT&T and I personally do not have a problem with my limit, however, I do not have 3G or 4G for about a 30 mile radius, so I don't use data on the network often anyway.
Michael Nelson I think Tiered Data is sexy the way it has such smooth moves in price increases. :)
David Harness I feel they should be options bellow unlimited data. Like a $15 2GB plan, $20 5GB plan, and $30 Unlimited plan
Joe Kirsch Someone, harmonize with me while I tap dance and sing "No~".
David Lewis Guirao Tatlitug Christopher Hagood: The percentage of smartphones still does not exceed the number of "dumb" phones.
David Lewis Guirao Tatlitug Matt Cain: If you can access Boost, Net10, Virgin Atlantic and some of the other no contract services you can get unlimited data for 50 bucks a month and you can tether your phone to your computer. Clockworkmod has an undetectable tether program now in the market that you must connect with your usb cable and it works perfectly. Considering these companies are owned by the big ones that nickel and dime you to death funny how they can offer you unlimited 3G on the no contract carriers. Just shows you how much they lie about availability.
Flako Ramirez They Can Tiere my Ass
Jackson Yee I hate it because there really is nothing you can do about it. We are all so dependent on data, they can gouge and screw us over no problem and we just have to take it.
Aaron Couts This is why I am sticking with verizon I have grandfathered unlimited data, and when I upgrade to a 4G phone I am still going to be able to keep it.
Eric Kroh thats why it pays to keep ontop of tech everything..I knew 2 months before verizon was getting tiered data..so..2 lines unlimited data FTW
Danny Casteen Hate them all
Micca Koster Verizon is the best carrier and the cheapest. I'm grandgathered in to keep my unlimited data. Sucks to be the people that have AT&T lol
Donerson Jeremy Yes I could go to sprint but the coverage sucks then its 4g is spotty Verizon has spoiled me
Frank Porter I hate it as well, but there's not a damn thing any of us can do about it. Short of there being a mass exodous of smartphone customers, the carriers will continue to do whatever the hell they want, and we'll make the best of it. We're too addicted to and dependant on our smartphones to do much more than grpe about it on here and on twitter. Just the way it is
Mark Gittens It sux!
Cyrus Taylor AT&T gives u unlimited mobile to mobile talk minutes and unlimited texting but they get ya with what u r gonna use the most of with a smartphone, data -_-
Benjamin Padilla There has to be a way to control people's data usage. Tiered data is not avery good way of doing it because of how its setup. Carriers should charge aflat rate like 1ยข per MB. That would make it so those who only use about 1GB of data(1028 MB) would only pay $10 for that month while those wanting to use a bunch of data, like 6 GB would pay $60 for that month. Simple solution for a fairly simple problem. The real issue though is about 75% of people only use about 500 MB per month and the carriers know this so they make data plans out of this range and you either have to get the more expensive plan or cut back on data usage.
Matt Cain @Christopher Hagood: Brilliant idea! Imagine a world where people have phones that make calls and are great for texting and nothing more. I bet carriers would rethink data, wouldn't they?
John Zanatta I'll take being throttled any day over paying overages.
Chris Hagood Wouldn't it be neat if everyone just stopped using smartphones and went back to older devices. If anything, just to show how frustrated we are with the carriers.
Matt Cain I think it's just another way to nickel and dime people. These devices that we cherish so much pretty much run our lives for us. We can know anything about anything all from our smartphones. People also should understand that if you live in a rural area like I do, wifi is not something you can have access to at home. You can overpay for satellite internet or torture yourself trying to deal with dial-up. 3G is our broadband at home. I think that unlimited data plans don't overload anything and I really think they should be brought back or somebody get off their butt and give everyone broadband.
Jose Angel Santiago Its the biggest ripoff there is!!
Dylan Poe @Juan: no they don't, you keep it even if you upgrade.
Brandon Johnson I despise it, I had unlimited data for nearly 4 years, but last year I had a problem paying my bill, so they turned my phone off and I lost my unlimited data, it's pretty easy to go over that 4gb limit when wifi is nowhere to be found.
Ryan Robertson Lol that's y u buy new on amazon lol
Russell Allred It really pisses me off. As much as cell phone bills are data should be unlimited.
Adam Van Weelden Thats why ive taken all my business to sprint.
Juan Carlos Munoz @zach they'll get u on your next upgrade. Sprint is the biz
Zach Cline Don't have to worry about it lol. Grandfathered into unlimited data with verizon.
Josh Slocum I only use the 2g package on my Atrix4G. I have my connection constantly running, my weather widget demands it lol I've yet to go over on usage since last summer when I got the phone. Really with Wi-Fi as readily available as it is, I really don't have any issues.
Jersey Joe Da-Know It dont cost the cariers sh*t for me to use DATAso, I shouldnt even be paying... anything... for data!!!!

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