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AT&T Raises Data Plan Prices for New Customers

AT&T is raising the price of its two smartphone data plans by $5, but increasing the monthly usage allotment by 50 percent at the same time. iPad service plans were also modified in a more convoluted way. Until 21 January 2012, the tiered smartphone plans cost either $15 per month for up to 200 MB of upstream and downstream data used, or $25 per month for up to 2 GB. Additional data cost $15 per 200 MB on the $15 plan and $10 for 1 GB on the $25 plan.

On 22 January 2012, the lower tier rose to $20 per month, but now includes 300 MB of data. Additional units of 300 MB cost $20 each. The next tier jumped to $30 per month for 3 GB of data, but picked up the previous plan’s $10-per-gigabyte overage charge. And finally, AT&T still charges extra for tethering and the personal hotspot option: it’s listed as a separate plan that costs $50 for 5 GB. Additional units of 1 GB also cost $10 with this tethering tier.

You can remain on your current plan — whether unlimited, 200 MB, or 2 GB — indefinitely, but the moment you switch to one of the new options, you can never return to unlimited service or the previous tiers.

AT&T offers extremely nice options for changing your service plan mid-month at no charge via the myAT&T app, its Web site, or by calling customer service. You can typically back-date a data plan to the first of the month, which can be a significant savings on the 200 MB or 300 MB plan if you burn through data, or pro-rate service from the current day of your billing cycle, if you expect to use much less or much more data through the end of a month. (In some cases, you may need to call or use the Web site to make the change, rather than modify service via the app.)

AT&T could adjust your service level to the optimum price each month with no jockeying on your part. This would increase customer satisfaction, which reduces churn (the number of customers leaving), and decreases marketing, retention, and account costs. But apparently AT&T, like other major cellular carriers, isn’t interested in this — presumably the companies feel the extra income is worth the customer annoyance.

Meanwhile, AT&T has stuck with its plan to throttle to EDGE speeds (about 200–300 Kbps) the top 5 percent of bandwidth users among its remaining unlimited subscribers, who pay $30 per month. Based on numbers provided by AT&T in earlier press releases, 20 million plans remained on the unlimited level in mid-2011. The throttling affects as many as 1 million users each month. On Twitter, one such capped user said he had used only a smidge above 2 GB last month and was throttled.

The new 3 GB tier at the same price as unlimited data may be an attempt for AT&T to lure unlimited customers who are being throttled to migrate to the metered way of doing things.

On the tablet front, there are also new iPad plans. The lowest level — 250 MB for $14.99 — remains available, but the 2 GB for $25 plan has been replaced by a pair of plans that cost $30 for 3 GB and $50 for 5 GB. The 2 GB plan remains available only for those currently using and automatically renewing at that level.

iPad subscribers who have postpaid accounts, where they are billed each month in advance for service, may pay $10 per GB for overages and be billed in a subsequent month. Those with prepaid service, in which all fees are paid in advance and fixed, may start a new 250 MB, 3 GB, or 5 GB plan when they have exhausted the usage allotment before a 30-day cycle is up.

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