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Proposition to Eliminate Mandatory Wireless Carrier Data Plans

A few days back, I asked my Dad why he won’t get an iPhone. He responded that he doesn’t want to pay the extra $25 a month for a data plan, when he works from home and he’s always surrounded with Wi-Fi. Similarly, I’m sure that the iPhone 5 will be announced within the coming months, so I’m either preparing to pass down my iPhone 4 to my daughter, or sell it off. The only problem with passing my iPhone 4 down is that AT&T forces anyone who wants to use a smartphone on their network to have a data plan. Why? She doesn’t need a data plan 24/7. I have a CLEAR iSpot 4G (a personal Mi-Fi hotspot) that’s good enough for all our iOS devices. She’s usually with me or at home with Wi-Fi. And, speaking of Wi-Fi, it’s just about every place we go now. So, why does every carrier have the need to impose a data plan on smartphones? The answer is simple. It’s only to reinforce revenue for the company, and I believe it’s ultimately a disservice to consumers.

To that end, I wrote to New Jersey Senators Barbara Buono and Robert Menendez today to propose the idea of enforcing an elimination of mandatory data plans on wireless carrier subscribers.

Here’s my diatribe:

Hello, Senator Buono and fellow state legislators. My family and I had the pleasure of meeting you at the Metuchen Street Fair this past summer, and I know that you are a strong advocate for consumer protection laws.

One important issue I am hoping you could soon address to the Federal Communications Commission and/or Federal Trade Commission are the supposed mandatory data plans on smartphones imposed by wireless (or cellular) carriers, especially when there is no need or want for such feature on a subscriber’s wireless plan.

Most wireless carrier subscribers own a smartphone nowadays. Whether it is a BlackBerry or an iPhone, they are full-featured devices that dutifully serve as personal information managers and organizers to schedule calendar appointments, take notes, and hold detailed contact information. Most recently, they are able to quickly access the internet and send/receive email, as well as function as simple telephones.

Historically, it can be argued that smartphone users without a data plan had inadvertently racked up large monthly bills due to the “per kilobyte” and roaming costs that wireless carriers charged. With the fixed data plans offered by the wireless carriers, consumers felt more safe to know that they could access the internet, and download videos and files without the fear of being surprised at the end of the month with an astronomical phone bill.

But, because of the explosive growth of the smartphone industry over the last few years, wireless carriers have recently declared that they have had a “hard time” trying to cope with the increase of their network’s congestion and bandwidth. More importantly to them, to prevent any further revenue leak, they have moved to a tiered, but rather unbalanced data plan configuration that potentially charges subscribers more in the long run (i.e. AT&T Mobility’s $15 for 200MB per month plus another $15 for every 200MB overage, or $25 for 2GB per month plus another $25 for every 2GB overage, versus the previous $30 per month for unlimited data).

Alternatively, Wi-Fi access points, or “hotspots,” such as those initially set up in one’s internet-enabled home, and provided at your local Starbucks coffee shops and McDonald’s fast food chains, have now started to blanket entire areas, such as shopping malls like Simon Properties’ Menlo Mark Mall in Edison, NJ, and provided by Cablevision as an extension to their Optimum Online cable internet subscribers. Since most smartphones now have Wi-Fi capability as well as “cellular data,” this gives the option to the user to switch their method of internet access at their own discretion.

Nowadays, if you wanted to buy a smartphone, either with or without a subsidy and lengthy two-year contract, or if you simply procured or was passed down a smartphone that you want to add to your account, all wireless carriers have and will impose a data plan on that individual telephone number and device, regardless if you want one or not. The extra $15 to $25 and more, per month, per subscriber, per smartphone device, undoubtedly rakes in guaranteed big profits for wireless carriers. But, for consumers who either live in areas saturated with Wi-Fi access or have their own personal Wi-Fi devices (known as “Mi-Fi”), or those who want the features of a smartphone but don’t want full-time internet access, that $15 to $25 and more per month becomes a complete waste of money, especially in these hard economic times. It has been proven that the removal of a data plan should have no bearing on the subsidized price of a smartphone, as the subsidy is the same as a regular cell phone.

Since today’s smartphones are simple enough for young children and the elderly alike to operate it with ease, it is likely that smartphones will soon replace the cell phone entirely, or at least the lines will blur enough that all phones eventually become smartphones. At the same time, Wi-Fi hotspots will continue to grow and expand so that internet access is available everywhere. Within the last couple years alone, smartphones themselves have gotten even advanced enough to share the internet connection with other nearby smartphones and laptops (i.e. iPhone’s new “Personal Hotspot” feature), which could make individual data plans even more redundant. To that end, it is imperative that our government swiftly review this unfair practice by wireless carriers, and prevent them from exploiting this growth and imposing this unnecessary cost on consumers. If wireless carriers are going to offer a truly, properly tiered system, they must offer a $0 per month plan for subscribers who use or want no cellular data at all.

Whether it is for the ability to limit internet access to children and younger adults, reduce costs for an already overburdened middle class, and/or to offer an easier phone for parents and grandparents at home, this unnecessarily mandatory surcharge by wireless carriers must be considered a violation of consumer rights until it is nothing more than a removable feature and option on their monthly wireless phone bill.

Should you have any further questions or wish to discuss this further, feel free to contact me.

Let’s see if I’ll get a response. What do you think of the idea?


  1. Ilana Ilana
    April 12, 2011    

    I discovered this ridiculous requirement this morning when I received an email from AT&T that a data plan had been added. In my opinion this was an unauthorized charge to my account but of course they don’t see it that way. We gave our daughter my old Blackberry. I did not want her to have a data plan but she was content with having the easier-to-type-on Blackberry over her old regular cell phone. Now I’m faced with either buying a data plan or telling her that she can’t have the phone we gave her to use (she’s 13). Of course I can call AT&T every day to cancel this plan…apparently their system will automatically detect that we have no data plan and add it back on.

    I would completely support such a proposition but by the time anyone does anything to protect the consumer, she’ll be talking to her own 13 year old child.

  2. W W
    April 27, 2011    

    Wow… I thought we in Canada get screwed by our wireless providers. I definitely agree that if you buy an unsubsidized phone that you should be able to use it without cellular data. However, if you buy a subsidized phone, then the wireless provider should be able to do whatever they want. But you should always remember the most important thing: you can vote with your wallet and switch to another provider! If enough people did that with AT&T and it affects their bottom line, they would change their tune quite quickly.

    • thatguy thatguy
      October 6, 2011    

      Zombie thread, but I just wanted to comment and say ALL providers require a mandatory data plan for smart phones.

      • October 6, 2011    

        Actually, that’s not true. T-Mobile USA, for all its worth, does NOT require a data plan for any of their phones. It was the major selling point for me to switch. I could pick up their top of the line Android phone and get just voice service if I wanted to.

  3. May 18, 2011    

    Happened to stumble by this blog after a bit of Googling – I couldn’t agree more how ridiculous this is. I recently moved to New Jersey from Denmark and was quite disappointed after finding out the hard way. But this “small” annoyance aside, I got to say I fucking love being in a country where people don’t accept things that they do not think are fair, and actually go about trying to implement some change. Unfortunately people like you are what we lack back in Denmark, much respect to you sir!

    Hah, and sorry for going off-topic….

  4. kayla kayla
    May 20, 2011    

    great idea. agreed

  5. Charles Williams Charles Williams
    July 6, 2011    

    Awesome idea, very well spoken.

  6. t. mar t. mar
    August 31, 2011    

    you have explained this problem perfectly, thank you! I think that the REAL reason verizon (especially) and the other carriers imposed this data bs on us is that with the newer android phones, wi-fi capability is SUPER sensitive and can pick up a wi fi signal easily and with all the “hotspots” out there, who would need a data plan? Sounds like a good way to screw the consumer…

  7. mpp mpp
    September 8, 2011    

    Very well written. Can I send this to CA senator and congressman? Making data plan mandatory on smartphones not purchased from carriers or purchased without a contract is absolutely wrong. What is the justification for that? May be we need competetion from foreign phone carriers. Carriers in other countries do not have such greedy requirements, we already pay more than what people in other countires pay for cell phone usages.

    • September 8, 2011    

      By all means, link this post up and get the word out. I’m going to hit up a few more senators with this proposal. I’m very disappointed that so far, I haven’t gotten a response from my NJ legislatures, nor the FCC or FTC.

  8. Michael McMurray Michael McMurray
    January 6, 2012    

    Love your proposal. Any response yet? I do believe there are very many of us out there who feel as you do There must be a way we can get something going on the internet to get petitions signed so we can present a request to our regulators/legislators in a way that cannot be ignored. I too have filed a complaint with the FCC but have not yet gotten a response.

  9. Shawn Freeman Shawn Freeman
    January 13, 2012    

    I agree – excellent idea. Just had a similar argument with AT&T (lost it of course). Have you heard anything back?

  10. scott cuyjet scott cuyjet
    February 16, 2012    

    I agree. I just got the 4s and passed the 4 to my daughter. I am ok with her having a data plan but I gave her droid to my son and I don’t want him to have it. Much less pay the $30. I think there needs to be a lawsuit although I hate them and most lawyers.

  11. February 27, 2012    

    I personally have done enough complaining about this problem and will now attempt to do something.

    I have set up a website – nodataoption.com – to collect signatures on a petition to get this practice changed. This will be organized by state and will be sent to each state’s U.S. senators and representatives and Attorney General, as well as to the FCC.
    With 150 million smartphone users out there, we only need to find the 1% who think as we do to get 1.5 million signatures. My goal is to get 50,000 signatures, which should be a no-brainer.

    So my request is – please help me find forums to get this message out. Yes, by all means, do sign the petition. But more importantly, please help me find a way to get more signatures.

  12. Adam Adam
    March 16, 2012    

    AT&T was telling it was a FCC requirement. False, I called the FCC. IT is NOT a requirement. Secondly, FCC does not charge any fees. FCC can’t do anything though without Congress.

  13. Joe Joe
    March 23, 2012    

    Everyone needs to;
    – Let as many friends and family know about this outrage
    – Write letters to their congressmen and Senators
    – File a complaint with the FCC
    – Contact TV and radio stations to investigate and do stories on this

    This is like me driving my 2003 Ford on the toll way paying $2.00 per trip, but if I buy a BMW and drive it on the toll way I have to pay $4.00. We are forced to pay for a service we don’t use !

    If all (or almost all) the carriers do this, isn’t this “Price Fixing”?

  14. alan scalingi alan scalingi
    May 2, 2012    

    Just read your letter and can’t agree more. Have you ever heard back from anyone?

  15. Zu Zu
    May 13, 2012    

    Thank you! Very well written! I will pass the word on.

    I believe we need phone and data plan independence. We need the option of having zero minute plans with all data options as well as the zero data plans. I can think of several use cases. One example, Use old iphone as a baby iPad without carriers forcing phone plans (pre-paid / post-paid) when only data is needed.

  16. george l george l
    November 15, 2012    

    this is taxation without representation. if you own a non-subsided device, that is you are the full owner of your phone, the phone company has no right to impose anything on you based on what device you have. it’s akin to this: you have a tow hitch on your car and the transit authority tells that you must have a trailer attached to it all times, and pay taxes on it… or they will attach one for you. it’s a clear-cut class action law suit and i don’t know why no one has picked that one up yet.

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