Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Oh, for the love of Pete... I've seen at least five hysterical articles today about AT&T's new data plan pricing.

The worst of the lot included a little chart to show you how much more the new plan was going to cost you:

This chart is what really made me crazy. The math in it is completely whopperjawed, so I'm going to indulge myself in a little rant, here.

Item 1: The "Old Data Plan" didn't have tethering as an option, as near as I could tell. Where did this number even come from?

Item 2: Let's indulge in just a little bit of elementary economics, for a moment: The "price per MB" line is only valid if you use exactly the maximum amount of data allowed. Now, let's ignore the tethering options for a moment. I went and looked up my bills for the last two years (I signed up with AT&T when I got my iPhone in July '08) and the most data I've used in a month is 26MB. And that was a significant outlier in a month I did some traveling and spent a lot of time with my phone as my primary internet source. Most months, I come in around 7MB. But let's go with the outlier. Let's even double it: 50MB per month.

If I'm using 50MB a month, then on the old data plan, I'm spending 60 cents per MB of data. On the new "Data Plus" plan, it's 30 cents per MB of data. Boy, that sure looks like savings for me! In fact, though the price per MB changes as the number of MB used changes, you're still saving about half the original cost if your usage comes in at less than 200MB per month.

Now, if you expect to use more than 200MB in a month, you're paying for the 2GB plan, which... still costs less than the original unlimited plan. Number of people who are actually going to end up paying more for (untethered) data plans? NOT. MANY.

Thus endeth the rant.

Now, they are kind of screwing us on the tethering. If you're using your cell phone as your modem, then it's going to be easier to exceed the data limits, because you're no longer hitting web pages that have been optimized for cell phone use, and you're downloading bigger things for use on your bigger computer. And charging extra for tethering without giving you an extended data package kind of blows, too. Is there any kind of extra load on their system when you're tethering instead of just surfing and downloading things via your phone? It seems to me that there shouldn't be, but I'll be the first to admit that I don't know the technology, so those are words I'm willing to eat, if someone explains to me that yes, really, there are extra costs that at least partially justify an additional $20 per month for tethered dataflow as opposed to standard data flow.

But. BUT. Tethering really shouldn't be most peoples' go-to option anyway. Cell phone internet use is slow, even with 3G. Even with 4G. It's improving, but it's still crap compared to regular broadband. So mostly the people who are relying on cell phone tethering are, I assume, only using it when they can't put their finger on a broadband connection. Business travelers, I would guess, make up a solid majority of these people (and also a solid majority of those who are in danger of popping the data cap. Cell tethering is not going to be a viable option for, say, gaming). In which case, if you are not making your companies shell out for the cost and/or writing it off on your taxes as a business expense, you are an idiot anyway.

So, all in all, my opinion of the new data packages?

It doesn't matter. Because I'm on an iPhone. That awesome math I did for you earlier? It's a fake. I don't pay $30 a month for my data package, because the iPhone package I got is completely separate from the standard AT&T price structure. And I have no idea whether that's the price package they have to stick with when my 2-year contract is up in July, or if they make me move to one of their standard packages. But I might go with a standard package anyway, if I can, because I have never exceeded 200 minutes a month in talk time, and or 30MB a in data, and I could save a bundle.

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