Manjoo: Listen Up, Verizon and AT&T—This Is the Perfect Wireless Plan

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
June 14 2012 6:21 PM

The Perfect Wireless Plan

Listen up, Verizon and AT&T: This is how much you should charge for data.

120614_TECH_dataPlanIllo

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

I wish I could say that I hate to say “I told you so,” but I don’t. When Verizon began carrying the iPhone last year, it made the mistake of offering an unlimited data plan. This was a dumb move, I argued then, because it was clear Verizon would later have to scrap this approach. Unlimited plans reward data hogs at the expense of everyone else: If you’re streaming puppy videos all day and I’m just surfing the Web, why should we pay the same rate—especially if your puppy videos are clogging the network and ruining my Web searching? It’s fairer—and, for most people, cheaper—if, like in everything else in life, we pay for only what we use.

Verizon has, predictably, killed the unlimited gimmick. This week the company unveiled a new wireless plan that offers several advantages over its old pricing scheme. First, Verizon’s new plans for smartphones and tablets do away with antiquated charges on voice minutes and text messages—now voice and text, which take up very little bandwidth on Verizon’s lines, are free and unlimited. (Verizon will still offer plans for “basic phones” that charge for voice minutes.) Verizon will now sell its plans by data tier—$50 for 1 GB a month, $60 for 2 GB, and $10 for each 2 GB thereafter. (If you go over the amount allotted in your plan, the charge is $15 per gigabyte.) The best part is that you can share the data service with all the devices in your household. So if you and your spouse both have a Verizon device and you each use about 500 MB of data per month, you can pay for just the $50 tier. The same is true if you’ve got a tablet and a phone—pay for data once, use it on both devices.

There is no way to get unlimited data under the new plan, and Verizon has made it very expensive for current unlimited customers to keep their cherished service. If you’re now on a Verizon unlimited plan and you want to stick with it, the only way to do so is to pay the full retail price of any new phone you buy. That is, instead of paying the “subsidized” price of $199 for an iPhone or another top-of-the-line smartphone, you’ll have to pay $649 or something similar.

Advertisement

I applaud Verizon for imposing this stiff restriction on unlimited plans. But there’s one nearly fatal flaw with Verizon’s new pricing—a catch so outrageous that it creates a big opportunity for the company’s rivals to step in with something more attractive. In an act of pure greed, the firm is charging a monthly “access fee” for each device you use. The fee is $40 for a smartphone, $30 for a basic phone, and $10 for a tablet. If you and your spouse each have a smartphone and share Verizon’s 1GB plan, you’d pay $130 a month—$50 for the data and $80 for the access.

Those enormous fees are completely indefensible. Just as it doesn’t cost my Internet provider if I connect 10 computers to my wireless router instead of just one, it doesn’t cost Verizon any more money to serve data to two devices instead of one. For Verizon, the only thing that increases its costs—and, therefore, the only basis on which it should charge its customers—is the amount of data people use every month. If you spread your 2 GB plan across 5 devices rather than 1 device, you ought to pay the same. Indeed, Verizon’s plan implicitly acknowledges this fact, because the company allows you to turn your device into a “mobile hotspot” for free. In other words, if I share my iPhone’s data plan with my iPad using the phone’s hotspot switch, I pay nothing extra to Verizon. If I want to connect my iPad to Verizon directly, however, I’ve got to pay $10 per month for that right even though I’d be using exactly the same amount of data in either case.

Now that Verizon has made its dumb pricing move, it’s time for AT&T or another competitor to offer something groundbreaking—what I imagine to be the perfect wireless plan. Here’s how it would work: First, you select a data tier. That’s it.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The End of Pregnancy

And the inevitable rise of the artificial womb.

Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola in New York City

How a Company You’ve Never Heard of Took Control of the Entire Porn Industry

The Hot New Strategy for Desperate Democrats

Blame China for everything.

The Questions That Michael Brown’s Autopsies Can’t Answer

Foreigners

Kiev Used to Be an Easygoing Place

Now it’s descending into madness.

Technology

Don’t Just Sit There

How to be more productive during your commute.

There Has Never Been a Comic Book Character Like John Constantine

Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?

  News & Politics
The Slate Quiz
Oct. 24 2014 12:10 AM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM Amazon Investors Suddenly Bearish on Losing Money
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 6:55 PM A Goodfellas Actor Sued The Simpsons for Stealing His Likeness. Does He Have a Case?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:47 PM Don’t Just Sit There How to be more productive during your commute.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 23 2014 5:42 PM Seriously, Evolution: WTF? Why I love the most awkward, absurd, hacked-together species.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.