AT&T Sets Up Cheaper Data Plans

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AT&T (Stock Quote: T) announced today that they will be switching up the pricing model for data plans on all smartphones.

Currently, the only option AT&T offers for smartphones is to buy an unlimited data plan for $29.99. But starting June 7, AT&T will replace this plan with two cheaper ones. Users will have the option to sign up for a $15 plan that allows them to access 200 megabytes of data online a month, or a $25 plan that allows them to access 2 gigabytes of online data.

“We’re breaking free from the traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ pricing model and making the mobile Internet more affordable to a greater number of people,” Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T mobility said in a press release.

Now, if you’re like most smartphone users, you’ve probably never had to calculate your data plan usage before so those numbers might seem abstract. According to AT&T, the $15 plan will be enough to send and receive about 1,000 e-mails without attachments, to visit 400 Web sites and watch 20 minutes of streaming video. The $25 plan will offer you 10 times the amount of each of those for just $10 more. (It seems pretty obvious that AT&T wants you to choose this more expensive plan.)

At first blush, this announcement might rub some customers the wrong way. Asking consumers to forfeit an unlimited plan for a metered version is like telling diners to step away from the buffet midway through dinner and go back to ordering from the menu.  However, the new plans are cheaper and, according to AT&T, 98% of its customers use less than 2 gigabytes of data a month.

Plus, as CNET notes, there were downsides to the unlimited plans. Several customers have been charged extra for abusing their data plans, despite the fact that it is unlimited. And, as we’ve reported before, AT&T has been struggling to find a way to reduce the stress on their cellular network by limiting the amount of data that users access.

Under the new plan, users will be fined $10 for each gigabyte of data they use above and beyond their plan. Customers who are already signed up for the unlimited plan will not be forced to switch, but will have the option to if and when they renew their contracts.

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