When Apple's sales pitch for the iPad's 3G model included the ability to sign up for an unlimited, contract-free data plan from AT&T, it sounded like a good deal. But Apple CEO Steve Jobs neglected to ask Ma Bell how long it intended to honor that offer.
Well, we found out June 1, when the carrier announced that it would stop offering the all-you-can-eat data plan for smartphones and iPads on June 7. This announcement comes, as you may recall, about six weeks after Apple started shipping the 3G iPads; the timing makes me wonder if AT&T's mobile data network is brittle enough that it just can't take any more strain.
This change in pricing smells fishy, even though it's perfectly legal and (if AT&T's figures can be trusted) only two out of every 100 users will pay more under this scheme. It skates dangerously close to a bait and switch.
For an example of why I think AT&T is grubbing for money, look at how it is pricing the lower tier of the new data plan: Customers will pay $15 per month for 200MB of data, and if they go over that figure during the billing cycle, they can pay another $15 for 200MB that's only good for that cycle. (The company claims that this plan matches the monthly usage of slightly less than two-thirds of its smartphone customers.)
To be fair, this may be a good deal for about one in three AT&T customers, as:
- existing subscribers get to keep their plans;
- the 2GB plan will cost $5 less than the all-you-can eat plan; and
- an additional GB is only $10 (again, good only for that billing cycle).
This latest "enhancement" to AT&T's data packages is a short-term answer to a long-term problem. Maybe AT&T is correct that 3 percent of its customers consume 40 percent of the data network, and perhaps the new pricing will discourage what would have been the all-you-can eat crowd from using "too much" of the network and there's a faint possibility that it could mean improved performance for everyone else on the network. There's also a chance that I will get a pony for my birthday.
No, this strikes me as a deliberate attempt to discourage people from using the data network and to soak users in the process, so I intend to accommodate Ma Bell another way. The new plans might spur a rush on iPhones and iPads this weekend, but for anyone who is as tired of dropped signals and ridiculous pricing as I am, they only confirm that my favorite carrier is ABA -- anyone but AT&T.