AT&T Changes Data Plan Rates; Everyone Needs to Calm Down

Earlier on Wednesday, AT&T announced its new data and tethering plans and rates for smartphones, and the Internet proceeded to freak the fuck out.

I'll explain why everyone needs to calm down in a minute, but first, let's cover what exactly AT&T announced.

For people who sign up for new service starting June 7th, they'll be able to choose from two data plans.

  • Data Plus includes 200MB of data for $15 per month, and an additional 200MB for an additional $15.
  • DataPro includes 2 GB of data for $25 per month, and an additional 1 GB of data for $10.
  • Tethering is available to DataPro customers for an additional $20 per month.
Immediately after these plans were announced, iPhone users started complaining, because that's what iPhone users do. I can't tell you how many "Bye AT&T, I'm switching to Verizon/Sprint/T-Mobile/whatever" tweets and blog posts I saw this morning, in immediate response to these new data rates.

AT&T later clarified that current iPhone users (since, ya know, the iPhone is just about the only phone anyone uses on their network) can keep their $30 per month unlimited plan, but they won't be able to add tethering. That definitely helped calm people a little bit, but I'm here to finish off the calming.

AT&T states that 98% of its smart phone users use less than 2 GB of data a month, and while I'm sure that number would be different if video streaming on AT&T's 3G network didn't suck, it's a valid point. If you're currently on AT&T, log in to your account, and check your prior data usage. While you may think going from "unlimited" to "2 GB" is a huge downgrade (especially since you're only saving $5 a month), I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. I know I was. Just check out this graph:
Yeah, that's right. My most data heavy month (at least for the period for which AT&T offers a graph) was 507 MB, or about 25% of the 2 GB option. Why so low? Well, I've got WiFi at home, at work, at the mall, at my local movie theater, at some restaurants I frequent and in the majority of hotels I stay at. Hell, the only reason May 2010's data usage was so (relatively) high was because I turned WiFi off one day and forgot to turn it back on for a couple weeks. 

I full acknowledge that this could suck for iPad users who waited for the 3G iPad with promises of a cheap unlimited data plan and now have this non-unlimited option. Some of the best iPad apps involve high data usage, particularly when it comes to video streaming. But the iPad users who are already using 3G data can keep their current plan, just without tethering -- and I can't imagine tethering an iPad, since it's already being pitched as a computer replacement. As for me, I'm still not buying an iPad, and when I do, it'll probably be the WiFi model, since I'll use it as a travel laptop replacement, not an iPhone replacement.

As for tethering my phone, personally, it's a feature that's never really interested me. Just check out that WiFi list above to understand why. I'm so rarely in a place that I don't have WiFi coverage, and when I don't I can just use the 3G on my phone. Sure, there are things I can't do on my iPhone that I could do on my computer, but if I'm THAT desperate for coverage, I'll drive to a local Starbucks. There are only 8.2 billion of them.

There's one last reason why you shouldn't immediately dump AT&T for Verizon or Sprint or whoever else. If you think AT&T's going to be the only wireless provider to do this, you're sorely mistaken. The wireless industry is a copycat industry. As soon as one provider does something successfully, the others will follow. Verizon confirmed back in 2007 that its "unlimited" plan was actually capped at 5 GB, which while significantly higher than 2 GB isn't truly unlimited. Assuming that AT&T's new plans are successful (and as long as they're the only provider for the iPhone and iPad, they will be), the other major networks are sure to follow.