Updated: Thursday, 3:35 p.m.
AT&T just announced that new data plans for smartphones and tablets will “give customers more data and value.” That’s true, technically. It’s also true that when the new data plan pricing system takes effect starting this Sunday, wireless bills for new AT&T customers will cost more.
Data usage is soaring—an increase of 40% annually, according to AT&T. To meet the increasing demand, AT&T announced that it is tweaking its data plans for smartphone and tablet customers. The result is that each of the plan options offered to new customers will include more data. Of course, each of the plans will cost more too. (Existing customers can keep their old plans, and prices won’t change.)
For smartphones, the least expensive plan will soon cost $20 a month for 300MB of data. That replaces the old plan of $15 for 200MB. The middle-of-the-road plan, currently $25 monthly for 2GB, will become $30 for 3GB, while the 4GB-$45 plan with Tethering will transform into a 5GB-$50 plan with Tethering. Tablet customers using AT&T will face similar increases for both plan data allowances and pricing.
AT&T could have just decided to raise prices for its existing plans. This too would have accomplished the goal of getting a little more money each month out of each customer. But by shifting the data plan allowances at the same time it jacked up monthly charges, AT&T gets to portray the move as an upgrade for consumers that adds value, rather than a simple, old-fashioned price hike.
TechCrunch points out that with the new plans, customers do, in fact, wind up paying slightly less per megabyte. The old middle-of-the-road plan, for example, worked out to cost customers $0.012 per megabyte, or just over a penny. As of Sunday, that rate will decrease to $0.0099 per megabyte, or a smidge under a penny.
It seems unlikely that many customers could notice the difference. They will, however, be paying $5 more each month.
Correction: A previous version of this post suggested that existing customers’ pricing plans would change. Only new customers will be affected.