AT&T considers charging iPhone users for high data usage


SAN JOSE, Calif. — Attention iPhone owners: AT&T has
heard your complaints about its sometimes-slow network.

A word of warning, though: You may not like what the company
has in mind.

AT&T is mulling a new pricing plan that would force its
biggest data users to pay more than others. That would be a sharp change from
the company’s current plan, where it charges users of Apple’s iPhone and other
smart phones a flat monthly rate for unlimited data usage.

The proposal, which isn’t final, is a possible response to traffic
patterns on AT&T’s network, Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of the
company’s mobility and consumer division, said at an investor conference in New
York on Wednesday. Just 3 percent of smart phone customers account for about 40
percent of the traffic on the company’s wireless data network, he said.

“We’re going to try to focus on making sure we give
incentives to those small percentages to either reduce or modify their usage so
they don’t crowd out the other customers in those same cell sites,” de la
Vega said.

Soon, the company plans to send real-time updates to
customers who are using excessive amounts of data, he said. But, he added,
“longer term, there’s got to be some sort of a pricing scheme that
addresses the usage.”

De la Vega did not say when AT&T might roll out such a
pricing scheme, how much it would cost consumers or how much data consumers
would have to use before they’d be affected.

No matter, many iPhone users took to Internet message boards
and social networks to bash AT&T for even considering the idea.

Among them was Patrick Leal, 38, who bought the original
iPhone two years ago and now owns an iPhone 3G. A technical writer from Los
Gatos, Calif., Leal said he uses his iPhone every day to read news, check
stocks and connect to Pandora’s Internet radio service. While he’s run into
dead spots where his phone calls drop, Leal said he hasn’t had any problems
with his iPhone’s data connection.

Leal said he understands the position AT&T’s in, but
still would be “pretty mad” if he had to start monitoring his data
usage because the company no longer offered an “unlimited” plan.

“They’re admitting that their network is slow,” he
said. “They’re admitting that they can’t handle the capacity.”

San Francisco resident Earl Neconie, 52, said he was “shocked”
at AT&T’s plans. Neconie, who is a graduate student at San Francisco State
University, has had an iPhone since the first one was released and now owns the
latest model, an iPhone 3GS. If AT&T ends up putting in place the pricing
plan, Neconie said he would consider unlocking his iPhone and switching to

“Unlimited data was the reason I chose the iPhone and
AT&T,” he said.

The iPhone has been something of a mixed blessing for
AT&T. The device has attracted millions of new users to the company’s
wireless service. But the reputation of that service has taken a battering
thanks to the loudly voiced complaints of iPhone users. And the company’s
network has clearly been taxed by iPhone customers, who account for the lion’s
share of Internet data usage today.

De la Vega defended the company’s record, but he
acknowledged a few problems. Service provided to wireless customers in San
Francisco and Manhattan is “below our standards,” he said.

But he said it’s working to beef up its service in both
cities. “In both of those markets, I am very confident that you are going
to see significant progress, and our company is committed to bringing those two
markets up to the standards that we are seeing in the rest of the nation,”
he said.

An Apple representative declined to comment on de la Vega’s
announcements, deferring instead to AT&T.

Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.