Acting on eagle-eyed reporting from DSL Reports, the New York Times' Saul Hansell challenged T-Mobile for its policy of capping data usage at 1GB per month for the operator's new G1 smart phone, based on Google's Android operating system.
T-Mobile backtracked and removed the cap from its terms and conditions. T-Mobile said on its G1 Web site for the Sept. 23 launch:
"If your total data usage in any billing cycle is more than 1GB, your data throughput for the remainder of that cycle may be reduced to 50 kbps or less. Your data session, plan, or service may be suspended, terminated, or restricted for significant roaming or if you use your service in a way that interferes with our network or ability to provide quality service to other users."
So, why did T-Mobile implement the cap initially? Hansell quoted T-Mobile as saying:
"We have a responsibility to provide the best network experience for all of our customers so we reserve the right to temporarily reduce data throughput for a small fraction of our customers who have excessive or disproportionate usage that interferes with our network performance or our ability to provide quality service to all of our customers."
GigaOm's Om Malik, never one to take phone carriers' words at face value, is skeptical about this explanation:
"When T-Mobile says they are still figuring out specific terms for new data plans, it smacks of double speak. Does the company really mean to say that they are going to be imposing a bandwidth cap, though it would be north of 1 GB. If not, they could simply would have said: no caps whatsoever."
Hansell meanwhile wondered why T-Mobile changed tacks so quickly, but I think it's pretty clear.
You can't offer a 3G phone and hype it as the next-generation smart phone for mobile Web services on 3G with a data cap. That's just not right. Imagine using the integrated application on G1 to download songs on Amazon's MP3 service only to have your phone conk out.
You can't offer consumers a device designed for massive multimedia use and then gently threaten that they can only upload so many YouTube videos, Flickr photos and other content. Imagine if someone tried to limit the Web services you use on your PC and threatened to shut your bandwidth off like a faucet. Who would agree to such a plan?
If T-Mobile and Google really want to replicate users' desktop Internet experiences on the so-called third screen, they can't have data caps. T-Mobile was wise to 86 the 1GB "soft limit," but it shouldn't have been there in the first place.
T-Mobile also said the specific terms for its new G1 data plans are still being reviewed and once they are final the company will share them with current customers and potential new customers. Hansell added that this will include additional restrictions.
T-Mobile needs to be very careful here, not only to avoid alienating customers, but to preserve as much of the "open" platform aura that Google originally introduced with Android in November 2007.
Carriers are notorious for "doublespeak," as Malik pointed out. Google doesn't want to fall into that tar pit, but now that it's snugly under the covers with T-Mobile I wonder if it isn't already stuck.