AT&T dives off the deep end, expunging unlimited data

Someone had to be the first, and AT&T decided that it would be the one to take the plunge – the carrier has announced that it will completely eliminate unlimited data service from new mobile subscription plans.

For the significantly vast majority of its users, this will actually signify a reduction in their monthly charges. For about 2% of customers, their bills will increase, but for all new customers, the valuable comfort of watching Youtube and checking e-mail without even having to worry about data limits will be lost.

Beginning next week, people who sign up for AT&T service will have 2 data options: $15 for 200 MB per month ($15 overage charge for each additional 200 MB), or $25 for a 2 GB limit, with $10 tacked on for every additional gigabyte.

AT&T says that 98% of its customers use less than 2 GB per month. So it may seem like a non-issue at this point, but with smartphone adoption continuing to grow with explosive momentum, that 98% could change very quickly.

In a poll at in February, 163 people, or 3% of poll takers, said their average monthly data usage on the iPhone was more than 10 GB. That kind of usage, which people are currently paying $30 a month for, will now cost well over $100.

The idea of eliminating unlimited data plans, both in the mobile sector and among broadband Internet providers, has been discussed for years, but very strong consumer pushback has stopped most companies from actually doing anything. This is the first time that such a large company has stopped talking about it and actually put such a measure into place.

Existing AT&T customers, including iPad 3G owners, will be allowed to keep their existing unlimited plans, for now. They will also have the option of switching over to one of the new plans.