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AT&T moves to limit smartphone data usage with new pay plans [Corrected]

June 2, 2010 | 12:32 pm

AT&T announced a new set of wireless data plans that would require users to pay extra money if they exceeded  monthly limits set on the amount of data they sent and received through their phones.

On its line of smartphones -- including Apple Inc.'s iPhone, for which AT&T is the sole carrier -- the telecom has for years offered so-called "all you can eat" plans that allowed users to send and receive an unlimited amount of data -- including e-mails, web pages, music and video. 

The new plans would be a substantial move away from that model.  Instead of paying $30 per month for unlimited data usage, new AT&T smartphone users could opt to pay $25 dollars a month for 2 gigabytes of data.  If users exceeded that allotment, they would pay $10 for every additional gigabyte.

The company says its $25 plan would include enough data to satisfy the needs of 98% of its smartphone users.  Two gigabytes, it said, was enough to send and receive "10,000 emails (no attachments), plus send/receive 1,500 e-mails with attachments, plus view 4,000 Web pages, plus post 500 photos to social media sites, plus watch 200 minutes of streaming video."

There will also be a $15 plan that would allocate users 200 megabytes of data (or one-tenth of the amount offered in the $25 plan).

Current AT&T smartphone subscribers will be able to stay on the $30 data plan.

The limits do not include data sent over local Wi-Fi networks -- an exception that in essence encourages users to wait until they get home (or to the office) to use their phone for data-intensive activities like watching Web videos or listening to music. Shifting heavy use off of cellular networks and over to the broadband Internet would lighten the load on AT&T's beleaguered cellular network.

The company has come under fire for slow speeds on its wireless networks in major cities -- chiefly San Francisco and New York -- where iPhone usage is highest.  Imposing data limits represents a way for the company to rein in heavy usage of its most data-hungry users, and thereby increase speeds on its network. 

In December, the company hinted at its plans to curb unlimited data consumption.

Corrected, 2:14 p.m.  An earlier version of this post stated that the lower cost 200 megabyte plan offered one fifth of the 2 gigabyte allotment from the $25 plan.  Two hundred megabytes is in fact one tenth of two gigabytes.

-- David Sarno

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