AT&T Unveils their “Incentives”

This article in the NY Times continues the hand-wringing concerning the new AT&T data plans.  For those that haven’t heard, AT&T is doing away with the “unlimited” data plans on the iPhone and the iPad (within months of the fanfare lauding the “true unlimited” nature of the iPad data plans.  But I won’t call THAT a bait and switch.)
This does seem to be AT&T’s solution to the complaints we heard back in December.  In December, the CEO complained that users were consuming data and they were going to “provide incentives” for users to consume less.  While this does seem to address the issue of consumption it is unclear what message they are trying to send.
That said, it does dance around the answer to the question I had a while back.  Back in December I wrote that the only way to incentivize consumers to “consume less” of anything was to make it more costly. 1  In this case AT&T has lowered the rates charged, (from a fixed $30/month unlimited plan, to $15 and $25 per month plans with data caps and additional fees for exceeding the caps.)
So, AT&T has provided incentives for users to consume less–get a lower costing plan, and watch how much data you consume.  Okay–this has the effect of reducing your actual cost while increasing the cost per unit, if you use the full amount of data allotted (and had previously used more than that.)
So will this achieve AT&T’s goal to reduce bandwidth/data consumption?  Apparently not.  To help customers make the transition, AT&T has argued that they have set the limits to levels that will only impact 2% of their users.  Specifically, AT&T has stated that 2/3 (66%) of their users consume less that the lowest tier of 256MB of data, and 98% of their consumers use less that the new “high end” cap of 2 GB. 2
Their point? Don’t worry–we are going to save you money, and not impact your use.
So they are arguing it won’t impinge on their users’ consumption, and yet they had as a stated goal a few months ago the desire to get users to consume less.
  1.  Note, that more costly doesn’t have to mean more dollars. It can mean explaining the other “costs” of cell phone and data use–essentially scaring people away with cancer concerns, or concerns about data consumption while driving, and so forth.
  2.  Given that they are going to grandfather in those with the $30 unlimited plans, I can’t imagine anyone who knows they are consuming more than 2GB switching–unless they just have no idea how much they are consuming.  AT&T wouldn’t mislead their customers into switching, and then hit them with the higher consumption fees later–would they?