February 13, 2012, 8:38 PM — Most people thought it wouldn't make that big a difference when Verizon and AT&T both admitted they would change their unlimited data plans to "unlimited" plans instead.
The shift should have been transparent from the point of view of customers, except when the bills came in.
Verizon and AT&T both swore the "unlimited" plans would not negatively affect their current customers with the exception of a few dangerously inconsiderate data hogs whose usage was so heavy it degraded the service, morale and morals of all the users around them, the two implied.
According to an Associated Press story this morning, though, the impact was much wider than either carrier predicted and the result highlighted two under-appreciated aspects of smartphonery:
First: So much of the experience of using a cell phone depends on the quality, speed and services available on the network to which it's connected that changing any significant aspect of that service has a disproportionate effect on the performance of the phone itself.
Second: Cell phone carriers only appear to be speaking the same language as their customers. Actually the carriers emulate lawyers, zealots and sociopaths by using the same words as their audience so as to sound reasonable, but using a secret second definition for each word so they can bend the truth as much as they want without being caught in an obvious lie.
Manipulating users to get them to switch from unlimited to "unlimited
When Verizon ended the unlimited data plan it launched to encourage customers to buy the iPhones it had just started selling, it set up a restrictive but relatively transparent data plan. "Unlimited" starts at 2GB per month for $30; use more than that and you pay more.
If you're a heavy data user, that plan would be more expensive than the unlimited plan, which is clear from the price list, Verizon's description of the change and even its excuses for having made the change.
AT&T tried to look more generous, but went with a plan that leaves customers in the dark about what level of usage constitutes data hoggery and whether, when and how they'll be published for "over" using the service they paid for.