With its Sunday night announcement that it would (re)join the unlimited data party, Verizon became the last of the four major carriers to offer their customers an unlimited data option. The news is, of course, exciting for current and potential Verizon customers, but it’s also great news for a couple of government agencies.
Before diving into that, though, here are the details of the plan: Verizon announced that starting Monday, February 13, it would introduce a plan giving customers an unlimited data option on their 4G LTE network. The plan starts at $80 for one line for unlimited talk, text, and data—so long as you enroll in Verizon’s paper-free billing and AutoPay program. The plan gets “cheaper” as you add more lines; so it becomes $70 per phone for two lines, $54 for three, and $45 for four or more.
The catch—because of course there’s at least one—once a single line hits 22 GB used in a month, data speeds will be throttled.
Verizon does pack in some additional features with the unlimited plan, though, that kind of make it worth it. Users get 10 GB of 4G LTE mobile hotspot data, and then unlimited hotspot data at 3G speeds; free international calling and texting in Canada and Mexico along with 500 MB per day of 4G LTE roaming; and video streams in 720p resolution.
The plan stacks up well against other mobile companies’ unlimited offerings. Price-wise, T-Mobile and Sprint offer cheaper plans ($70 and $60 per month, respectively), but they cut the bitrate for video streaming so you don’t get HD-quality video; meanwhile, AT&T’s is more expensive ($100 per month) and it requires you to be enrolled in DirecTV.
The plan has its pluses and minuses, but it’s clear that Verizon made the move back to unlimited because of pressures in the market, not because they wanted to. This is a company that literally hates the idea of unlimited plans. Their then-CFO, as recently as September of last year, was quoted saying, “you cannot make money” with unlimited plans and that “at the end of the day, people don’t need unlimited plans.” After removing the unlimited option in 2011, Verizon went on a rampage trying to convert all of those grandfathered-in plans to data-capped plans. And in July of last year they actually started kicking users off of those plans who used more than 100 GB of data per month.
While all of that was happening, customers were ditching Verizon (and AT&T) to sign on to plans at T-Mobile and Sprint who were proudly boasting about their unlimited options.
Ultimately, the move by Verizon to get back to unlimited data plans is a result of increased competition in the mobile market. They admitted defeat. And that’s why this is such a huge win for the government, as well as consumers. It was just a handful of year ago that the Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department were faced with a decision on the proposed merger between T-Mobile and AT&T. The latter offered the former $39 billion to join forces during the summer of 2014, but the two government agencies ultimately decided to step in and block the merger. And it all pointed back to the FCC and DOJ wanting to protect the idea of competition in this marketplace.
The same thing happened early last year when T-Mobile and Sprint were in talks to get in bed together. Concerns that their proposed merger would meet the same demise ultimately led to talks stalling. (Though they could pick back up with a President Trump in office.)
The little guys have effectively strong-armed the bigger guys back into offering unlimited data plans. And this is just the start. Verizon spokesperson Kate Jay told the Washington Post that the company intends to develop the offerings further with a range of different network and service options. “We're committed to having an unlimited option in our portfolio,” she said. “As technologies and things change, there could be evolution. But we're committed to having that option.”
Competition is such a great thing. I expect that we’ll see even more aggressively priced unlimited options in the not-so-distant future as others in this space look to keep their momentum rolling.