If you haven’t been in the market for a cell phone recently, perhaps you missed it: AT&T’s Unlimited Talk, Text & Web GoPhone Plan, ushered in by a June 21, 2011 press release.
The FCC, FTC or state attorneys general really ought to look into AT&T for the marketing of their “unlimited web” mobile phone services. Without the benefit of a clear-and-obvious disclosure, AT&T’s prepaid smartphone customers, like their contract-bound counterparts, need to sign up for a separate data package, otherwise there is virtually no web to speak of under so-called unlimited talk, text and web GoPhone plans. A data plan will set consumers back $10 to $45 or $5 to $25 per month in additional fees depending on whether or not the service is under contract (postpaid) or prepaid (with prices subject to change, of course).
For consumers trying to keep their costs down in a tough economy, every dime counts. AT&T and its largest competitor, Verizon, would like us to think they are competitive in the prepaid market so they’ve crafted their own definition of the word “unlimited”. Verizon stipulates parenthetically that their unlimited prepaid option applies only to “basic phones”. By contrast, AT&T makes an implicit suggestion that web access is unlimited to any prepaid handset owner. The reality that it does not comes on top of the industry’s controversial practice of capping or throttling data access on the part of its heaviest “unlimited data” users. It is, in a nutshell, a case of what Sir Richard Branson calls “confusion marketing“.
AT&T titled their press release this past summer “Prepaid Calling Just Got Better: Nationwide Unlimited Talk, Text & Web Plan Now Available for $50”.
Two things stand out: 1) The news organizations and blogs that covered this new plan largely parroted the headline to perpetuate a patently false notion of the true cost of owning a modern prepaid phone, and 2) AT&T and its competitors need to abide by standard English usage in the use of the word “unlimited” when paired to “talk, text & web”. In fact, they have a legal obligation to abide by truth-in-advertising laws.