Monday, March 5, 2012 at 11:07 am.

If You’re Still Whining About AT&T’s 3G Data Throttling, You’re Part Of The Problem

It’s pretty simple, really.

  • AT&T’s data network is a finite, constrained resource. We know this because it still sucks most of the time. (In my experience, at least.) This costs money to continue to improve.
  • Meanwhile, AT&T needs to make more money. So do you, so does everyone, but AT&T does too. Maybe it acts like a government monopoly sometimes*, but it isn’t one — AT&T needs to show growth and profits just as Apple and other for-profit companies do.
  • To make more money, AT&T needs to charge you more money for data. Because charging you more money for voice/phone calls and texting is becoming trickier as technology disrupts those markets. (It becomes even more complicated when data has lower profit margins than data and voice.)
  • If you use a lot of data, it’s only fair for you to pay more than people who don’t. That’s how many other constrained utilities work, and that’s now how wireless broadband works. That shouldn’t be hard to understand. Especially given the sorry state of AT&T’s data network.

Sure, you can whine about the promise that AT&T made you many years ago when you signed up for unlimited data. But when has a gigantic telecom company actually failed to disappoint you? Things change, and this is one of those things.

AT&T has now been phasing out its unlimited 3G data service for almost two years. It has not always communicated this in the best way possible, but that’s what’s going on. And this is a one-way road. If you use more wireless data, you’re going to have to pay for it.

And I’m okay with that, because right now, you’re not paying for it, and you’re making the network suck more for all of us who have accepted the new reality. So you can either pay up, deal with slower speeds after exceeding the generous cap, or you can switch to Sprint, which is desperate to add more iPhone subscribers. But that has costs, too.

Here’s the big picture bottom line: If you use a lot of data, you are clearly getting some sort of value out of it. Value isn’t free. The world’s finite resources simply aren’t trending toward free. That isn’t logical. I predict most of you will be spending significantly more per month for wireless data in 5 and 10 years than you do today. You’ll be getting faster and better service, and more value out of it, but it won’t be cheaper.

Please get over your emotional battle — and extinguish any legal threats, that’s silly — and join us in reality. If you use a lot of mobile data, be happy about it, and be happy paying for it. It’s worth it. And consider trying the add-on tethering plan for the iPhone, it can be useful if you carry a laptop or iPad.

*Telecom joke, told to me by a big-company CEO: If you’re AT&T, how do you get to 80% market share? Start with 100%!

Also: The iPhone’s comeback and the power of carrier distribution