A company executive said Wednesday that those who have iPhones will be put on tighter leashes. AT&T currently requires a data plan to go with each iPhone. The current plan allows for unlimited use for $30 per month.
Apparently, the unlimited use has caused the carrier to have trouble keeping up with wireless data usage, leading to dropped connections and long waits for users trying to run programs on their devices.
Dallas-based AT&T is upgrading its network to cope, but its head of consumer services, Ralph de la Vega, told investors at a UBS conference in New York that it will also give high-bandwidth users incentives to "reduce or modify their usage."
I interpret that stellar work of wordplay as "if you are a heavy data user, expect to pay more for your data plan."
De la Vega didn't say exactly how or when the carrier would change its policies, but he said some form of usage-based pricing for data is inevitable.
AT&T also doesn't make it easy for subscribers to know how much data they're consuming unless you download the myWireless app from the App Store.
"We need to educate the customer ... We've got to get them to understand what represents a megabyte of data," de la Vega said. "We're improving all our systems to let consumers get real-time information on their data usage."
Just 3 percent of "smart" phone users are consuming 40 percent of the network capacity, de la Vega said, adding that the most high-bandwidth activity is video and audio streaming. Several applications on the iPhone, such as Pandora, provide nonstop Internet radio.
De la Vega also defended the network's performance, saying testing showed that AT&T's third-generation, or 3G, network was faster than that of competitors, and that major problems are concentrated in New York and San Francisco, which are packed with smart phone users.
Just earlier this week, AT&T launched another iPhone app (Mark the Spot) designed to let users report performance issues with the carrier's data and voice network.
AT&T is locked in a TV ad war with Verizon Wireless, which is touting its wider 3G network coverage. The two recently agreed to drop two lawsuits about their dueling claims.
The Associated Press' Peter Svensson contributed to this report.