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Most Pandora users unaffected by AT&T data cap

June 3, 2010 |  8:37 am

Pandora-elvisAT&T, the exclusive U.S. wireless carrier for the iPhone, is doing away with its unlimited Internet offering for new customers next week. Is it the end as we know it for streaming music services like Pandora?

Not likely, but AT&T customers might want to think twice about watching a ton of music videos on YouTube.

Current AT&T smartphone customers can hang on to their current $30-per-month plans or switch to a new option -- $15 for 200 megabytes or $25 for 2 gigabytes.

If you're hoping to treat yourself to an extra Arby's combo meal next month, the 2-gig plan should cover general usage. AT&T says it will cover 98% of its customers.

With an imminent update to Apple's mobile operating system, iPhone users will finally be able to listen to streaming music while they surf the Web, check e-mail and use other applications. So usage of Pandora is expected to skyrocket.

Music industry influencer Bob Lefsetz wrote in his newsletter on Wednesday that Pandora could become an unintended causality of the AT&T caps.

A Pandora spokeswoman said half a percent of listeners, based on current patterns, will be affected. If anything, Pandora presumes the cheaper plans could make smartphones, and in turn Internet-dependent music services, more accessible to the casual consumer.

"Hopefully these new pricing options will attract even more users into the smartphone world," wrote Pandora spokeswoman Deborah Roth in an e-mail. "Mobile is an area of tremendous growth for Pandora."

Pop & Hiss conducted a test run of an hour of continuous music streaming on the default sound-quality setting with Pandora on the iPhone. (Flipping on high-quality streaming doesn't make a huge difference in bandwidth consumption.) It weighed in at just under 16 megabytes.

In other words, you'd need to stream about 4 hours on Pandora every day to hit the 2-gig monthly limit. Mileage varies depending on your choice of streaming service. But as Wired points out in its investigation, many services, including Rhapsody, MOG and Spotify in Europe, allow you to save songs for offline listening. Also keep in mind you can switch to Wi-Fi where available to not count against your 3G data total.

The more likely victim is YouTube and apps like Ustream, which let you broadcast live video at, say, a concert. Compared to music, movie clips eat up a lot of bandwidth.

-- Mark Milian
twitter.com/markmilian

Photo: A photograph of Elvis Presley looms over a Pandora employee analyzing music on a computer at the company's Oakland, Calif., offices in 2006. Credit: Dan Krauss / For The Times

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