AT&T bummed out a lot of long-time iPhone users Monday by announcing a $5 per month rate hike on grandfathered unlimited data plans. AT&T hasn’t offered new customers unlimited data since 2012, but users who snapped them up in the iPhone 3G era and clung to them until now (including yours truly) will see the first price hike in seven years, from $30 a month to $35.
AT&T will first notify affected customers, and then start charging them the extra $5 in February 2016. While AT&T previously came under fire for throttling these so-called unlimited plans to a lower speed after customers hit 5GB, the company recently changed its policy. Now it only throttles users “if you exceed 22GB of data in a billing cycle and are in a congested area.”
Why this matters: If you have unlimited data with AT&T and you’re still under contract, you still have to pay the increased cost. If you don’t want to pay, your only option is to cancel your contract within 60 days of receiving the higher bill, and AT&T will waive the early termination fee “for the lines impacted by the price increase.” I’m the only unlimited-data line on my three-line family plan, so if I wanted to move my whole family, I’d still be on the hook for ETFs for the other two lines. AT&T hopes customers will move to its Mobile Share Value plans instead—which can save you money versus paying for separate data buckets for each user, although then you also have to, you know, share the data.
What about the others?
Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon will cover the costs of switching from another carrier, as long as you turn in your current smartphone and buy a new one. So AT&T unlimited customers might consider switching—and here’s what you’ll find if you go shopping today.
At Sprint, a new 64GB iPhone 6s is $100 down and $15 a month if you trade in another smartphone—it’s a 22-month lease, but you’re allowed to upgrade to a new iPhone anytime. Sprint has an unlimited data plan to go with its unlimited talk/text, but it’s $70/month. (All Sprint plans at 1GB include unlimited 2G data, so the $70/month is if you want unlimited LTE data.) Sprint may throttle unlimited users once they exceed 23GB of data in a billing cycle. Interestingly, Sprint will still let you sign a 24-month contract for the iPhone, making the 64GB iPhone 6s $300 upfront, but a monthly fee of $95 for unlimited talk, text, and LTE data. ( Sprint’s Cyber Monday deal is only available in stores, for a 16GB iPhone 6s for $1/month if you trade in an iPhone 6.)
T-Mobile’s Simple Choice Plan prices a 64GB iPhone 6s at $200 up front (reduced to $100 for Cyber Monday, in stores only), plus $27.09 per month for 24 months. Unlimited LTE data is $95 per month, with unlimited talk and text. But you might not need unlimited data with T-Mobile, since Simple Choice plans also include “ Binge On,” which excludes video services like Netflix from affecting your high-speed data allotment; “ Music Freedom,” which does the same for music streaming; and “ Data Stash,” which rolls up to 20GB of unused LTE data forward from month to month. Like Sprint, once your high-speed data allotment is gone, you get unlimited 2G data.
Buying from T-Mobile can be a little confusing, though, because they also have Jump On Demand, only available in T-Mobile stores, which requires a device trade-in but lowers the device fees, to $0 upfront and $5/month for a 16GB iPhone 6s. It’s an 18-month lease, and you can upgrade up to three times every year, but if you cancel during the lease period, you have to pay the rest of the lease at a higher rate, “up to $27/month.”
Verizon offers a 64GB iPhone 6s for $0 down and $31.24/month for 24 months. It doesn’t seem to have an unlimited data plan for new customers, but the tiers go up to 100GB a month for a whopping $750. Verizon recommends 3GB for $45 for most people, and a step up to 6GB is $60/month. Unlike Sprint and T-Mobile, Verizon will charge you if you go over your allotment, at $15 per 1GB. (T-Mo and Sprint don’t charge you more, they just reduce your speeds.) Verizon’s plans also all have $20 tacked on for “monthly line access,” so your $45 data plan will result in a monthly bill of $65.
Family plans get more complicated based on how many lines you need and how much data you can share, not to mention the possible inconvenience of switching your whole family at the same time. My parents are on my plan, for example, even though they live 3,500 miles away—so I’m most likely cooling my jets for the time being and paying AT&T the extra $5, although I’m not thrilled about it.
What about you? Do you still have a grandfathered unlimited plan on AT&T? Are you gonna keep it?