When AT&T stopped offering their unlimited data plan the responses covered the usual extremes, from the needlessly hysterical (“my human rights have been violated! It’s the end of the Internet!”) to the witheringly pragmatic (“more customers = less bandwidth. Companies can do what they want. If you don’t like it, move to Russia”).
Back in those naive days of 2010, we all tempered our outrage by believing in AT&T’s assurance that existing customers would be ‘grandfathered in’ — in other words, yeah, sucks for the newbies, but at least we got in on a good deal. And as long as we never changed our plan or our phone, we could keep it… or at the very least, we could keep it until our mandated 2-year contracts were up… or… or…
Nope. Unlimited was clearly no longer anything more than AT&T’s cruel, cruel joke at our expense. Why? I’ll give you five good reasons:
- Starting in August of 2011 AT&T decided that grandfathers should be strangled. And by that I mean, of course, that the the top 5% of data users would find their speeds throttled for the rest of that month. ZDNet’sJamesKendrick has talked to a lot of throttled grandfathers, and he figures that “the magic data number seems to be around 2.1 GB of data usage” (although unconfirmed regional anecdotal reports give numbers as low as 1.3GB).
No matter how you look at it, AT&T has one standard for ‘unlimited’ users, and quite another one for tiered customers. Because you can get 3GB per month for the same price as the ‘unlimited’ plan and 5GB per month for about $20 more.
In other words, AT&T has enough bandwidth to let its 5GB customers run wild all month long, but those nasty grandfathers who try to get more than 3GB — less than AT&T’s lowest data plan — get cut off at the knees, to hobble around on the bloody stumps of dial-up speeds until the next pay cycle.
- Uh, Isn’t this a breach of contract? Well, no — not if you’re a multinational communications company with the finest legal team that money can buy. AT&T isn’t taking our unlimited plan away, they’re simply ‘changing the terms of service,’ for which they ‘reserve the right at any time.’
Think about it this way: if a restaurant offered unlimited soda refills, and you went back up to the machine and there was just a trickle, you could still get ‘unlimited’ soda. It would just take you a year or two to fill up your cup.
- Can’t you just say “see ya!” to AT&T? Sure, go ahead. After you’re done paying a hideously expensive early termination fee, you’ll have an utterly useless (and probably also hideously expensive) smartphone that no other carrier supports. But look on the bright side, that phone was already obsolete before you were done paying for it.
- The worst part of this bad joke is that unlimited data is really the only reason why anyone chose AT&T in the first place. Okay, let’s be fair and say one of three reasons: #2: AT&T was the only company that had the iPhone at the time, and #3, pretty much all of the other major carriers are nearly as bad. AT&T’s service and coverage is infamously patchy, their customer service is a nightmare, and past practices are just barely on the perfectly legal side of pure evil (picture AT&T twirling its black moustache while tying the damsel in distress to the railroad tracks. BTW: you’re the damsel).
- Oh, by the way, AT&T still offers an “Unlimited Data Plan” — to “Standard Phones.” In other words, if your device is not a tablet, smartphone, or Internet device, you can have all of the data you want. For more information, picture the ‘trickling soda refill’ metaphor, but with your bare hands instead of a cup.
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