MONEY cellphones

Hey AT&T Customers: It May Be Time to Give Up Your Unlimited Data Plan

woman walking past AT&T store
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

AT&T and other wireless carriers may continue to offer unlimited data plans, but they're not the great deal they once were.

Almost half of all AT&T mobile customers are still clinging desperately to a grandfathered cellphone plan with unlimited data, according to a survey from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP). But that choice is looking particularly unfortunate in light of the Federal Trade Commission’s latest lawsuit.

In a complaint filed Tuesday, the federal agency alleges that AT&T has been slowing data speeds for consumers on “unlimited” plans, in some cases by up to 95%. The practice of reducing data speeds for heavy users, called “throttling,” can make it very difficult to complete routine tasks like browsing the web or using GPS navigation. In some dense metro areas like New York and San Francisco, AT&T allegedly throttled users who consumed as little as 2 GB a month. Altogether, the New York Times estimates, about 25% of AT&T’s unlimited data plan customers were affected.

“AT&T promised its customers ‘unlimited’ data, and in many instances, it has failed to deliver on that promise,” FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez says in a statement. “The issue here is simple: ‘unlimited’ means unlimited.”

AT&T calls the charges “baseless” and says it warned customers that heavy users could be throttled. But while AT&T’s alleged behavior is particularly egregious, the carrier wouldn’t be the only one to limit data use on so-called “unlimited” plans, as Ars Technica has reported.

For example, Sprint’s My Way plan promises unlimited data for the life of the line of service, but read the fine print: The carrier also throttles the top 5% of its users, as part of its “network management” strategy. Sprint says that users who consume more than 5 GB are generally at risk for throttling, though it varies by month.

Likewise, while T-Mobile has repeatedly said it does not throttle its unlimited customers, its fine print notes that the top 3% of users might see their data slowed “during times and in places of network congestion.”

Similarly, Verizon throttles the top 5% of customers still on 3G. Verizon had planned to slow speeds for the heaviest users on 4G, but it shelved that idea after receiving its own stern warning from the FTC. Maybe Verizon has less to worry about—according to CIRP, it has already moved the vast majority of its customers off unlimited plans.

In fact, Verizon hasn’t sold a single new unlimited cellphone plan in two years. AT&T hasn’t offered an unlimited plan in four years. The two biggest American carriers have been trying to wean customers off of unlimited data plans for a while now, or else the wireless companies risk becoming victims of their own success.

First Unlimited Calls, Then Unlimited Data

The unlimited model was born in the late 1990s, when AT&T launched its first One Rate phone plan, explains Kirk Parsons, senior director of telecom services at J.D. Power. Customers loved the certainty: the same bill, every month, with no separate charges for roaming or long distance calls.

That model still made sense when the phone carrier introduced data plans for smartphone users—so much sense that by 2008, AT&T actually forced all iPhone 3G customers to buy an unlimited data plan. Back then, it was a moneymaker: You could offer unlimited data because people wouldn’t use a lot of it, and it didn’t cost a lot anyways. That’s all changed.

“When smartphones started coming out, the networks weren’t up to snuff,” Parsons says. “You couldn’t actually enjoy the experience of videos and downloads. Once 3G coverage widened, then we transitioned from 3G to 4G, that’s when you really saw people using data on their phones, streaming music, watching shows.”

Now, the carriers have created a nation of data addicts. As of December 2013, Americans consumed 269.1 billion MB of cellphone data a month—far more than double what they consumed a year before. It’s just too expensive to keep up with our insatiable demand. The carriers have to buy or lease radio frequencies all around the country to provide good service, says Logan Abbott, president of Wirefly.com. There’s only so much bandwidth.

“Consider it like a nationwide wifi network,” Abbott says. “If you have everyone in your house on one wifi connection—downloading, streaming Netflix, doing data-intensive stuff—your bandwidth is going to get used up … It’s going to put drag on your network.”

Of course, if AT&T acted as the FTC claims, consumers got a really raw deal. While the other carriers say they throttle just a small fraction of the heaviest users for network management reasons, AT&T is accused of slowing service for 3.5 million of its 14 million subscribers.

Still, limited data is the way of the future. Not that AT&T customers want to hear it—there’s a reason 44% of them haven’t changed cellphone plans in over four years. “It doesn’t necessarily make sense, but they like the security blanket of never being overcharged,” Abbott says. “They have a vintage product, and they don’t want to let go.”

Paying for More Data Than You Actually Use

The truth is, if you’re an AT&T user, it might be time to give up your unlimited plan. The first thing to do is check your account to see how much data you really use—it may not be as much as you think.

Slate has prepared some handy interactive charts that show how much data you’d have to use before an unlimited plan pays off, but this is the main takeaway: If you’re only using 1 or 2 GB of data—like most typical users—you’re likely overpaying for the unlimited option. You simply don’t need that much.

If, on the other hand, you’re using a lot more, the FTC says you’re being throttled—in which case, you might as well shell out a little more money for a data plan that actually delivers the speeds advertised.

Related:

Read next: This Is the Best Wireless Carrier for You

TIME Regulation

Feds Sue AT&T for Allegedly Slowing Unlimited Data Plans

AT&T Asks U.S. Judge to Throw Out Sprint's Antitrust Lawsuit
Bloomberg/Getty Images The AT&T Inc. logo is displayed at the company's new store in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 30, 2011.

"The issue here is simple: 'unlimited' means unlimited."

The Federal Trade Commission is suing AT&T for allegedly misleading customers by slowing data speeds for wireless customers who had unlimited data plans but went over a certain usage point, the agency announced Tuesday.

According to the FTC, AT&T did not properly inform customers who had unlimited plans that their speeds would still be lowered after they exceeded certain data thresholds in a given month. Speeds were reduced by as much as 90 percent in some cases, making basic phone functions such as web browsing and watching video almost impossible, the FTC said.

“AT&T promised its customers ‘unlimited’ data, and in many instances, it has failed to deliver on that promise,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement. “The issue here is simple: ‘unlimited’ means unlimited.”

AT&T throttled speeds for 3.5 million customers at least 25 million times, the FTC alleges, while it also said that customers who canceled their contracts due to the lowered speeds still had to pay expensive termination fees, the FTC alleges.

In an emailed statement, AT&T senior executive vice president and general counsel Wayne Watts called the FTC’s suit “baffling.”

“The FTC’s allegations are baseless and have nothing to do with the substance of our network management program,” Watts said. “We have been completely transparent with customers since the very beginning. We informed all unlimited data-plan customers via bill notices and a national press release that resulted in nearly 2,000 news stories, well before the program was implemented. In addition, this program has affected only about 3% of our customers, and before any customer is affected, they are also notified by text message.”

AT&T no longer sells unlimited data plans to new customers and has been trying to phase out the service for years, along with many other major carriers. The company announced in 2011 that it would begin throttling the data speeds of its heaviest users on a regular basis.

Wireless carriers’ practice of slowing speeds for their heaviest unlimited users has also caught the attention of the Federal Communications Commission. “Wireless customers across the country are complaining that their supposedly ‘unlimited’ data plans are not truly unlimited, because they are being throttled and they have not received appropriate notice,” said an FCC spokesperson Tuesday. “We continue to work on this important issue, including with our partners at the FTC, and we encourage customers to contact the FCC if they are being throttled by AT&T or other cellular providers.”

TIME Regulation

More Than 350,000 Customers Have Asked AT&T for a Refund After Bogus Charges

New York City Exteriors And Landmarks
Ben Hider—Getty Images A general view of the exterior of the AT&T store in Times Sqaure on February 21, 2013 in New York City.

Here's how to request yours

Hundreds of thousands of AT&T customers have requested refunds for bogus cell phone charges since the telco reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission last week to reimburse consumers, an FTC official told TIME Wednesday. In total, 359,000 individuals have sent in claims to the FTC seeking refunds for unauthorized charges that appeared on their cell phone bills in a practice known as “cramming.” Through cramming, third parties are able to issue unwanted, recurring charges for things like love tips and horoscopes to cell phone users.

Jessica Rich, the director of the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection, said the response from consumers was one of the largest the agency has ever seen. The only case with a larger number of claims that she could recall was a 2012 settlement with Skechers over deceptive marketing for one of its shoe lines, which garnered close to half a million consumer complaints. “We expect this to be a lot higher,” Rich said.

In total, AT&T has agreed to pay $80 million in refunds to customers for cramming charges. The telco giant will also pay $20 million in penalties and fees to the 50 states and Washington, D.C., and a $5 million penalty to the FTC. At the time of the settlement, an AT&T spokesman noted that the company was the first in the telco industry to stop charging customers for premium SMS messages in late 2013. The FTC is currently suing T-Mobile over the same issue.

It’s not guaranteed that all the people who have issued claims will actually receive refunds. An independent claims administrator will review the refund requests to determine if they are valid. “I’m expecting that most of the claims are going to be valid, but if they’re not valid, there will be a way to determine that,” Rich said.

Customers who think they were a victim of cramming can file to claim a refund until May 1, 2015.

TIME Regulation

AT&T to Pay $105 Million Settlement Over Extra Charges on Customers’ Bills

Settlement follows allegations that T-Mobile also engaged in hiding bogus charges in customers' bills

AT&T will pay $105 million to settle allegations brought by the Federal Trade Commission that the wireless carrier unlawfully billed customers for extra charges on their cellphone plans. The practice, known as “cramming,” involves charging customers $9.99 per month for unwanted features from third parties like ringtones, text message horoscopes and love tips.

According to the FTC, AT&T received 1.3 million customer complaints about the bogus charges in 2011 alone. That same year AT&T changed its refund policy so customers could only be reimbursed for two months’ worth of faulty charges, the FTC claims. The charges were listed under a line item called “AT&T Monthly Subscriptions” on customers’ bills, so many did not know they were coming from third parties.

AT&T will offer refunds totaling $80 million to customers who paid cramming charges over the years. The company will also pay $20 million in penalties and fees to all 50 states and Washington, D.C., as well as a $5 million penalty to the FTC.

“This case underscores the important fact that basic consumer protections – including that consumers should not be billed for charges they did not authorize — are fully applicable in the mobile environment,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a press release.

AT&T stopped billing people for premium SMS content in December 2013. The company says it was the first in the industry to end the practice. “While we had rigorous protections in place to guard consumers against unauthorized billing from these companies, last year we discontinued third-party billing for PSMS services,” AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said in an email.

The FTC has been especially focused on bringing penalties against telecom and Internet companies over the last year. T-Mobile was accused of similar cramming practices in July, but the wireless carrier is disputing the claims in court. Apple and Amazon have also faced FTC allegations that their app store policies allowed children to easily rack up massive charges of in-app purchases on their parents’ devices.

MONEY Customer Service

3 Industries That Desperately Need Customer Service Makeovers

Chimpanzee on a telephone
Brad Wilson—Getty Images

Comcast is hardly the only company that should be doing some soul searching and commit—not only with words but actions—to making customer service genuinely better.

Because the state of customer service has been bad for so long, and because we’ve heard many times over that some or another big initiative would improve customer service dramatically only to have little or no impact, we’re skeptical about the effectiveness of any broad campaign supposedly crafted to address age-old customer grievances. Nonetheless, it was good to see Comcast’s recent announcement that a long-serving executive named Charlie Herrin had been named as the company’s new senior vice president of customer experience. “Charlie will listen to feedback from customers as well as our employees to make sure we are putting our customers at the center of every decision we make,” a message from Comcast president and CEO Neil Smit explained on Friday.

Read between the lines and it sure looks like Comcast is acknowledging that in the past, customers haven’t exactly been top of mind when it comes to company decisions. That’s no revelation to consumers, of course, who have routinely dinged Comcast for terrible customer service. In 2014, Comcast “won” the annual Worst Company in America competition as voted by Consumerist readers, the second time in recent years it has nabbed that dubious honor.

While it’s unclear what Herrin and Comcast will do to improve customer service, the first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that you have one, which Smit did more squarely when he said, “It may take a few years before we can honestly say that a great customer experience is something we’re known for. But that is our goal and our number one priority … and that’s what we are going to do.” To which the consensus reaction among consumers is … it’s about damn time. Followed by, we’ll believe it when we actually see real,meaningful change.

To be fair, it’s not just Comcast that’s sorely in need of a customer service makeover. Here are three entire business categories that are regularly bashed for not putting customers’ needs first on the agenda.

Pay TV & Internet Providers
Current Comcast competitor and likely merger partner Time Warner Cable is also a regular contender for the worst service title, as are other pay TV-Internet providers including DirecTV and Verizon.

Among the complaints are that there is a lack of true competition in the category, because roughly three-quarters of Americans have exactly one local choice for a high-speed Internet provider. A survey published this summer indicated that more than half of Americans would leave their cable company if they could, and nearly three-quarters said that pay TV providers are predatory and take advantage of the lack of competition. Among the most hated pay TV practices that consumers would love to see changed are promotional rates that are replaced by skyrocketing monthly charges, frustrating and time-consuming run-ins with customer service reps, and bundled packages overloaded with channels and options the customer doesn’t want (let’s add smaller packages and a la carte channel selection, please).

Wireless Providers
The good news for cell phone users is that customer satisfaction is on the rise, increasing 2.6% according to the 2014 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The bad news, however, is that while we’re happier with the actual gadgets (from Samsung in particular), satisfaction with the companies providing our cell phone service—including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint—remains stagnant and below average.

Plenty of other studies also show just how frustrated and dissatisfied consumers are with wireless providers nowadays. A vote-off at Ranker.com, for example, placed AT&T at the top of the list of “Companies with the Worst Customer Service.” Among the many problems consumers have with wireless providers is that choosing a handset and data-minutes-texting package is absurdly complicated, with countless permutations, obfuscations, and mysterious add-on charges. This past weekend, a New York Times columnist presented a painstaking step-by-step analysis of why the $199 price advertised for the new iPhone 6 is a joke—because by the time fees and monthly upcharges are tacked on, upgrading to the new phone will easily run more than $600.

“Wireless service has always been one of the most complex purchases a human can possibly make,” Eddie Hold, a wireless industry analyst with market research firm NPD Group, summed up in a Consumer Reports story last year. “It’s always been horrific.”

Banks
Number 3 on the Ranker list of companies with the worst customer service, just below AT&T and Time Warner Cable, is Bank of America. Another study, from 24/7 Wall Street, used customer service surveys to put Bank of America in the #1 spot for its Customer Service Hall of Shame, and two other banking institutions, Citigroup and Wells Fargo, are in the top (bottom?) 10. (The study factored in ratings for these institutions’ banking and credit card services.)

What may come as a surprise—a sad and ironic one, at that—is that customer satisfaction with banks is apparently at a record high. The 2014 J.D. Power study on U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction indicates that big banks and regional banks have made some strides in terms of making customers happier (or less disgusted) with their service, and that overall bank scores are higher than they’ve ever been since the study has been conducted. Yet the J.D. Power study shows there’s a long way to go: The most common reason given for switching banks is poor customer service, and millennials, minorities, and affluent consumers stand out as being particularly dissatisfied with today’s banks.

“Even with record high satisfaction, there are some banks that fall far short in meeting customer needs,” J.D. Power’s Jim Miller said via statement. “It is easy for banks to become complacent. To stay at the top of their game, banks should focus on those customers who are not satisfied. And consumers should keep in mind they have the opportunity to shop banks to find the right combination of services, products and fees to meet their needs.”

What’s your pick for the company with the worst customer service? Tweet us at @MONEY with the hashtag #unhappycustomer. Here’s what readers have already said. Add your nomination, and we may publish your feedback in a future post.

Related:
5 Packages That Could Replace Pay TV As We Know It
How to Pick a Bank

MONEY Television

5 Packages That Will Replace Pay TV as We Know It

cutting the cord
Igor Markov—iStock

The traditional cable plan is dying. Here's what's going to replace it.

If you need proof that cable providers are feeling the heat from cord cutters, look no further than AT&T’s new U-Verse package. Marketed as an online exclusive, the plan includes broadband, a small lineup of channels, HBO (including HBO GO), and a full subscription to Amazon Prime (with both streaming video and free shipping included)—all for $39 a month. The message is clear: “Keep paying for TV, and we’ll throw in some of the web services you were thinking of leaving us for.”

If might seem strange for a cable provider to subsidize its competitor’s products (and you’d be right), but AT&T’s latest offer reflects just how desperate cable companies have become to keep their subscribers. The old pay-TV model is dying, and it’s being replaced by a slew of more consumer-friendly ways to watch the tube. As we edge closer to the end of cable as we know it, it’s time to look at five new packages that are stepping in to fill the void.

The Oh-God-We’ll-Do-Anything Package

That’s essentially what AT&T is now offering. By discounting the same web services most of their cord-cutting customers are likely fleeing toward, the company is trying to keep anyone they can on the cable bandwagon for just a little while longer. It sounds like a good deal, but cable refugees should read the fine print. AT&T is only offering the $39 price for your first year on the service. After that, the plan’s price is likely to skyrocket, making this package a bit of a bait-and-switch.

Re/Code’s Peter Kafka succinctly summarizes the logic behind AT&T’s newest product, writing that cable providers “[would] rather have subscribers paying a small fee than none at all, but they’re also telling themselves that those subscribers will ‘trade up’ ” to a more expensive plan. But as Kafka points out, it’s a gamble, and giving subscribers a sampling of cable competitors might not be the best way to ensure they stick around.

The Discount Cable Package

Having hundreds of channels sounds nice, but which channels does the average watcher actually need? The networks? Local sports? Maybe HBO? If that’s your answer, a growing number of cable companies are offering packages that offer exactly that, and nothing more, at a discount price. Comcast is selling internet, local channels, and HBO for $49.99 a month. (Comcast might be feeling ambivalent about this plan, since, as Re/Code notes, the company apparently stopped promoting it, but interested parties can still find the deal here.) Verizon has an almost identical plan for $50, and AT&T is offering its aforementioned discount plan at an even lower price.

The catch? Verizon’s deal is for one year only, and Comcast promises just 12 months of its “Internet Plus” plan at the introductory price. Once that year runs out, subscribers may find these discount plans are yet another ploy to keep cord-cutters on board and gradually reconvert them to costlier options.

Cable for Cord-Cutters

It might sound like an oxymoron, but that appears to be exactly what Sony is trying to do with its yet-to-be-released Web TV service. The tech giant has already signed a deal with Viacom to carry 22 of the company’s channels, including MTV and Comedy Central, and plans to ultimately stream an even larger selection of networks exclusively over the internet.

However, instead of using this new transmission method to shake up TV offerings, the Wall Street Journal reports Sony is planning to put together a traditional cable-like package with roughly 100 channels and a comparable monthly bill. According to Viacom and others involved with the project, Sony plans to lure would-be cable quitters using a new, more powerful user interface that promises to make media consumption of all kinds more intuitive and enjoyable.

The Un-Cable Provider

If T-Mobile has become the un-carrier for wireless service by rejecting typical industry practices, Dish seems to be doing the same thing for cable. The satellite provider is planning to launch a new Web-TV service as well, and like Sony’s offering, it wouldn’t require any setup or installation fee. But according to the Journal, Dish is going even farther than Sony by building its Web TV package around a leaner selection of most-watched channels—all for a lower price than current pay-TV plans. Dish has already partnered with Disney to build out its content lineup, and is required by that agreement to also carry 10 of the top 30 channels when the service debuts.

A Hodgepodge of Streaming Web Services

For many TV fans, ditching cable for the Netflixes and Hulus of the world is already the status quo. Cable providers may not let customers pick and choose which channels to receive, but through a careful selection of streaming services, including free ones like YouTube and Twitch, TV addicts may have stumbled across the next best thing. This alternative is looking even more attractive ever since HBO announced in September that it was ‘seriously considering’ offering HBO GO to those without cable plans as a standalone product. Combine online HBO with a growing number of cable-less sports options, and the very idea of single package TV service may become increasingly old-fashioned.

MONEY Tech

How to Cut Your Wireless Bill Down to Size

stack of phone bills
Christine Balderas—Getty Images

Cell phone carriers are battling for your business by cutting prices, ditching contracts, and offering to pay your fee to switch. Act fast to lock in your savings.

If you’re unhappy with your cell phone service—and really, who isn’t?—now might be a unique time to either renegotiate your contract or move to a new carrier.

Your window of opportunity may be short, however, as carriers have reached a crescendo in an escalating battle over prices and plans.

The mobile business started to change about a year and half ago, when T-Mobile first said it would ditch contracts and stop subsidizing phones.

In April, after some tit-for-tat between companies, T-Mobile said it was getting rid of its data overage charges and doubled the data that consumers were allotted, among other changes, and offered to pay the often-steep switching fees carriers can charge to break contracts.

AT&T responded by lowering some of its package prices and debuting a new line of no-contract plans. Verizon last month began offering a new $60 plan that previously would have cost users $90. Both companies also offered deals involving data shared by a family of users.

Then, last month, Sprint changed its offerings to include more data usage than its rivals were delivering at the same price. T-Mobile countered with a low-price starter plan of $45 that comes with 2GB of data. And with the iPhone 6 launch on the horizon, carriers are trying to lure in new business—or keep existing clients.

The result of these changes? Savings can be dramatic.

James Pillow, 41, of Orlando, Fla., was lured recently to switch from AT&T to T-Mobile’s $50 unlimited text, talk, and data plan (which limits users to 1GB of data over its 4G network).

Pillow, president of the sports apparel company FanCastle.com, says he had been spending $98 a month on cell phone bills and didn’t want to constantly worry about extra data usage. Now his bills are $57. He had evaluated smaller companies, but says he was concerned about the reliability of their coverage.

“Since I travel with my job and with my family, it made sense to chose a national company with a national tower network for better coverage,” Pillow says.

To best take advantage of the offers, you need to go through the complicated math, as cell phone carriers notoriously make their packages difficult to compare.

Also, the best plan for you depends on how much data you want, whether you already own a phone and the number of users tied to your contract.

Here’s how to evaluate the offers:

Study Your Bills

What if you merely think you’re getting a bad deal? To know for sure, take the last six to 12 bills from your current service and see what you really use, says Jon Colgan, who runs a service called Cellbreaker.com that helps consumers break their contracts.

Ask yourself: How many minutes a month do you use the phone? How much do you text? How much data do you consume?

Pay attention to the fine print. A $100 plan doesn’t necessarily mean your bill will be $100. To know what your charges will actually be, you can go to a website like MyRatePlan.com or Whistleout.com to sort out what options you have within the parameters you’ve set.

Negotiate First

Changing plans isn’t always necessary, says Jeff Kagan, an Atlanta-based industry analyst. The first place to start is with your own carrier. Make a simple, friendly phone call asking for a better deal.

“Don’t go in as an adversary. Go in as a partner,” he says.

The typical customer can expect to see their rate drop by 20% to 30%, Kagan says. If you have a particularly poor deal for your usage pattern, like paying per text when you’re a serial texter, you should be able to save far more.

Make the requests annually, Kagan says, rather than waiting for the end of a contract.

Shop Around

Your business could be worth something to a competitor, and without penalties, moving could be in your best interest.

“The ideal person to take advantage of this is someone whose commitment has ended,” says Northeastern University finance professor Harlan Platt.

That’s what Holly Johnson, 34, of Noblesville, Ind., did to find a good deal for her cell service last year. Johnson, who writes the ClubThrifty.com blog, switched her husband’s phone for the second time in two years, from Verizon to a local discount carrier to Republic Wireless, a carrier that relies on the use of WiFi to control costs.

Johnson says the bill is now $25 a month for a plan that includes unlimited talk, text and data, while the previous Verizon bill topped $100 a month.

One warning for consumers is that even though some carriers have limited-time offers to offset costs you incur for changing plans, there may be other hidden charges. Platt warns that carriers now try to lock in consumers by selling them phones on a payment plan.

Instead, you can go to a retail website that sells prepaid phones, like Amazon.com, and purchase one that will work on the company’s network that you’ll be using. That will ensure you’re a free agent and can move to another carrier of there’s a more tempting deal.

“There’s nothing special about AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon,” Platt says. “They provide a commodity. What consumers need to do is make those phone calls and get the bills down.”

TIME Gadgets

iPhone 6 Wireless Plans Compared

Over at Yahoo Tech, Rob Pegoraro has taken up the unenviable task of comparing iPhone 6 wireless plans from major carriers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

This was all a somewhat simpler endeavor back when a phone cost $200, you picked a minutes/data/text messages plan, and signed a two-year contract. But newly-added pricing plans have saddled up alongside traditional pricing plans, resulting in a far murkier melange of minutes and megabytes.

The assumption with this exercise is that you’ll be buying a base-model iPhone 6 and will need two gigabytes of monthly data. All of these plans include unlimited minutes and text messages and, aside from network quality, your biggest decision is whether or not you want to be able to use tethering. Tethering lets you share your phone’s data connection with another device such as a tablet or laptop. It’s good for road trips and other instances where you’d get a cellular signal but wouldn’t have access to an open Wi-Fi network.

If you don’t care about tethering:

  • Verizon can be had for $1,640 over two years
  • Sprint can be had for $1,680 over two years
  • T-Mobile can be had for $1,730 over two years
  • AT&T can be had for $2,120 over two years

If you want to tether:

  • T-Mobile can be had for $1,730 over two years
  • Sprint can be had for $1,920 over two years
  • AT&T can be had for $2,120 over two years
  • Verizon can be had for $2,360 over two years

These figures don’t take into account network quality in your area, family plans, equipment trade-in bonuses, taxes or other stuff like that. Each carrier offers a trial period, though, so make sure to exercise your right to return your phone if you’re not happy with it.

Check out Pegoraro’s post for more info on the various plans and pricing schemes.

[Yahoo Tech]

MONEY Apple

iPhone Orders Start Today: Here Are the Best Deals

The new Apple Inc. iPhone 6 is displayed.
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg via Getty Images What everyone is drooling over right now: Apple's new iPhone.

iPhone 6 pre-orders start Friday, and carriers (and some retailers) are fighting tooth and nail for your business. We've compiled the best deals of the bunch.

Preorders for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus begin on Friday, and that means every major carrier, and even a few retail chains, have special deals on the new iDevice. We’ve collected them all below so you can snag the best ones.

Verizon

Verizon Wireless is offering what might be the most attractive promotion for customers who haven’t upgraded their phone in a while. The company promises a $200 gift card—the price of an entry level iPhone 6—to anyone trading in an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S. That’s compared to the $60 Apple will give you for an iPhone 4 in good condition.

AT&T

Don’t have an old iPhone? No problem. AT&T will give new and existing customers a $100 bill credit when registering a new iPhone for service, provided they do so by September 30 and sign up for the AT&T Next plan. Next sells the phone to customers through installments, allowing them to upgrade again in the next 12 or 18 months, depending on the monthly installment they choose. New iPhone buyers who pick Next can also get $200 off an iPad (as long as the iPad is purchased with a 2-year wireless agreement). Finally, the carrier says it will buy your old iPhone for up to $300 and apply that credit to a new iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus.

T-Mobile

America’s most iconoclastic carrier is promising to beat any iPhone trade-in deal offered by AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint. Find a better value for your old phone than T-Mobile is offering, and they’ll match that deal and give you a $50 credit toward your bill. Plus, switch from your old carrier to T-Mobile and they’ll also give you up to $350 per line to get you out of your old contract.

The company also just announced that certain models of its phones—including the iPhone 6—will be able to make calls and send texts over Wi-Fi. And for frequent flyers, any plane with Gogo Air Wi-Fi will give free access to T-Mobile users starting September 17th.

Sprint

Sprint has introduced a new plan for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus customers that offers unlimited talk, text, and data for $50 per month. Buyers can also jump on Sprint’s own leasing program, iPhone for Life, which offers unlimited everything plus a new iPhone every two years for $70 a month (assuming you pick the base model iPhone 6). If you’re switching from a competitor, Sprint will give you another hunk of cash, up to $350 per line, to pay off your contract or current device. The company has also “struck back” with their own trade-in price-match promotion, and vows it will beat any trade-in offer from another major carrier.

Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club

The big-box giant is cutting prices on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus out of the gate. CNET reports that Wal-Mart is selling the 16GB iPhone 6 for $179—a discount of $20. The iPhone 6 Plus will get the same discount on September 19th. Sam’s Club locations will give an addition $2 off both phones’ prices.

Radio Shack

It’s still in business (for now), and buyers who put their faith in “the Shack” will get a free $50 iTunes gift card with any iPhone purchase. And yes, they’ll buy your current phone from you as well.

Target/Apple

These two retailers aren’t offering any special deals on the iPhone 6—each has the standard $199 carrier-subsidized option (and Apple also offers a no-money-down option for AT&T Next customers)—but both are taking preorders and will give you some money for your old phone. Not a whole lot of money, mind you, at least compared with other options. But, if these are the most convenient stores for you, they’re at least a one-stop shop for trade-ins and preorders.

Related:
The Apple Store Is Now the Last Place You Should Buy Your iPhone
Why Only Apple Has What It Takes to Disrupt Our Wallets

MONEY

3 Ways to Get Online When Your Internet Is Down

Teen using laptop, tablet and smartphone
Dina Marie—Getty Images

What to do if your internet service cuts out? Here are 3 ways to prepare so you'll always have a way to connect.

Early Wednesday morning, a massive Time Warner Cable outage left customers across the country without internet access. While the cable company reports most service was restored by 6 a.m., data from downdetector.com, a website that tracks internet outages, showed nearly 10,000 complaints at the height of the blackout. Time Warner services about 11.4 million high-speed internet customers nationwide.

So what do you do if your internet goes down and you absolutely, positively need to get online? You can’t just run to Starbucks in your pajamas if the outage hits in the middle of the night, as this one did, so the best strategy is to plan ahead. Putting one of these backup methods in place ahead of time will keep you connected the next time your ISP decides to cut out.

1. Tethering. As any smartphone user knows, wired internet isn’t the only internet available. As long as you have a working cellular data connection, you can transfer your phone’s internet access to your laptop or desktop computer via a method called tethering.

Both Android and iOS phones can tether, although the costs may differ. The only option for iPhone users is to purchase a tethering plan from your carrier, which can add around $20 a month to your bill. On Android, it’s possible to tether for free by installing third party apps, but carriers may add a charge if they notice increased data usage. For more, check out these iOS and Android tethering guides.

2. Mobile Broadband. Mobile broadband is similar to tethering in that you’re using cellular data to get your computer online. But instead of through your phone, it works via a separate device that provides a mobile internet connection, generally by generating a wifi hotspot.

One advantage to mobile hotspots is that many offer prepaid plans. For example, Verizon offers plans for its 4G LTE Jetpack that allow users to buy as little as a week of service at a time. Another service called Karma provides pay-as-you-go internet for $14 per gigabyte. That means if your internet cuts out unexpectedly, you can jump on your hotspot’s wifi for a relatively small fee. However, the devices themselves can cost around $100 for the initial purchase.

3. Public Wifi. If all else fails, there’s always mooching off Starbucks or other free wifi locations. Apps for Android and iOS provide maps of publicly available wifi hotspots that can work in a pinch. But most people don’t know their internet or cell provider might also provide a network of wireless hotspots.

Optimum, AT&T, and other ISPs provide maps of their wifi locations. In some cases, access is included in your pre-existing internet or cell service contracts. In other cases, wifi access might require an additional subscription. Services like Boingo also offer a mixture of free and paid-wifi hotspots, and map apps to help locate them.

 

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