It turns out that providing unlimited data is quite expensive. Ars Technica spotted that Verizon is revamping its plans and now sells you two kinds of unlimited data — Go Unlimited and Beyond Unlimited. (Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch.)
And the biggest change is probably that mobile video is now capped at a maximum resolution of 480p. You won’t be able to stream any HD video on Netflix or YouTube with the basic unlimited plan (Update: video is capped at 480p on phones and 720p on tablets). Verizon has already run tests in July throttling Netflix and online video in general.
Instead of acting as a dumb data pipe, Verizon is looking at what you’re doing with your phone and sending you data at a slower speed if you’re doing things that could cost Verizon a lot of money.
Verizon launched an $80 unlimited data plan back in February. This previous plan was quite straightforward. You could do whatever you wanted with your phone until you reached 22GB of usage. After that, you would get reduced speeds. You could also use your phone as a hotspot for 10GB per month.
But this plan led to more pressure on the network and increased costs. So the company had to do something to turn this great consumer-friendly idea into a viable business venture.
The entry-level Go Unlimited plan is now $5 cheaper, but it also comes with a ton of restrictions. In addition to 480p video, you can experience reduced speeds at all times to reduce network congestion, even if you only use a couple of gigabytes per month. Of course, you can always upgrade to Beyond Unlimited if you’re too frustrated with those restrictions.
Even worse, mobile hotspot speed is limited to 600kbps. The company says you get unlimited data when you’re tethering, but 600kbps is so slow that you’ll give up on tethering in no time. In fact, if you use mobile hotspot for an hour, you can only download around 260MB of data — it’s that slow.
Forget about YouTube. Even just loading nytimes.com completely, a 3.8MB page, would take you 51 seconds at full speed.
You can pay $10 more for the Beyond Unlimited plan ($85). This plan looks more or less like the old unlimited plan, with a 22GB limit. You can tether for up to 15GB per month. But videos are still capped at 720p on your phone and 1080p on your other devices. Existing customers will still pay $80 per month, but video will be throttled. How hard is it to let users decide what to do with their data allowance?
If you think other carriers are nicer, AT&T also has two different unlimited plans (“Unlimited Choice” and “Unlimited Plus”) with restrictions on video. T-Mobile’s basic unlimited plan also limits video to 480p. Sprint doesn’t limit video but throttles your speed when you’re streaming music.
In other words, rest in peace net neutrality. If only the FCC was courageous enough to prevent carriers from branding their plans as “unlimited” when those plans are nothing but unlimited…