We've heard Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam talk about the inevitability of tiered data pricing in the not-so-distant past, but yesterday AT&T actually made it a reality. My first thought (and based on what I've seen in the comments, I don't think I was alone) was to be mad at AT&T for taking away the freedom of unlimited. We live in a world where freedom is highly valued and as restrictions are placed on that which we have come to love - and maybe even take for granted - the first thing we want to do is point the finger at the evil company who took away our freedom.
Now that the initial shock is over, I think it's only fair that we delve a little deeper into AT&T's tiered data pricing and our current data consumption to see how bad it really is. Perhaps we will find that AT&T is actually doing us all a favor and saving us money. Perhaps we will not. But I certainly think we owe it to ourselves to take a serious look at how AT&T's new game plan will truly effect the masses.
The first thing we need to get out on the table is something that current AT&T customers might be overlooking. Here is a statement from our PR rep concerning AT&T customers who currently have unlimited data:
"Existing smartphone customers are not required to switch to the new plans, but can choose to do so without a contract extension. They are also not required to switch to the new plans if they renew their contract or switch to another smartphone. However, if they switch to one of the new plans, they will not be able to go back to their old unlimited plan."
I don't think I really need to elaborate on the above, it seems pretty self explanatory. If you currently have (and love) unlimited data, that's great. Feel free to keep using it, do your best to download 30GB worth of data per month if you feel it's necessary, no one is forcing you to change plans. But if you're using less than 200MB/month (don't be ashamed, I found out I was only using 71MB) maybe it's time to reconsider?
Looking at the recent poll we posted on "How much data do you use per month?" 20% of those who voted are throwing away $180/year on average. And keep in mind, chances are the majority of our readers' data use is heavier than what we'd call an average consumer. According to AT&T's data, which probably comes from much more standardized and thought out research methods, 65% of AT&T customers use less than 200MB of data per month. That's 55.3 million customers who don't need to spend more than $15/month on data.
One thing I'm not a huge fan of, if you decide to sign up for the 200MB plan, and you go over your allotted usage, you are automatically charged another $15 for an additional 200MB. Now you're back where you started ($30/month) and only get 400MB for your troubles. In fact, in this scenario you've now spent more than someone who gets 2GB of data for $5/month less. Something about that doesn't sit well with me.
According to our data (over 500 votes at the time of this writing), 62% of our readers use less than 2GB of data per month. That's still a lot of people who could be saving about $60 per year in unnecessary charges. AT&T's numbers are much different though. They say that 98% of their customers use less than 2GB of data per month. That's 83.4 million users who could be saving $60 or more per year by switching to AT&T's tiered plans. Additionally, I think this plan makes more sense than the 200MB plan because if you go over your 2GB, you get another 1GB for only $10, placing you only $5 above where you would have been otherwise. I'm not saying it's perfect, but it's certainly more reasonable.
So, what's the takeaway? Well, I think they should still offer unlimited data for customers that are willing to pay. AT&T could still do that and call it tiered data pricing. If I want to spend $15/month because I'm going to use 200MB or less, and save $15/month in the process that's my prerogative. But I still think that if you want to have access to unlimited data, there should be an app (read: plan) for that too! This way, new customers are still being given the freedom of choice, something many of us have grown accustomed to over the years. All in all, it looks like AT&T has done its homework and are actually trying to make data more accessible to those who want it (believe it or not, that's your call) but can't afford the current rates. All they need to do now is add an unlimited component to the new offerings and I'd think they have a unique, well thought out set of offerings for their current and potential customer base.
You know where the comments are. Feel free to discuss below!