Data plans (on everything but the iPhone) are incredibly profitable for carriers like AT&T. Most smartphone users pay for way more bandwidth than they will ever actually use. That's why ATT has made the choice to start requiring data plans with all of their smartphone purchases. If you already have a smartphone with AT&T but no data plan, your phone will be grandfathered in and you will not have to buy a plan.
According to a leaked internal email found by Boy Genius this change will come to the AT&T network on September 6th. If you currently use a non-smart phone with a data plan, you will have to upgrade to a non-MediaNet plan when you buy a smartphone. Unlocked handsets will not be affected by this change.
AT&T claims that this change has been made in order to give customers the “best possible experience” by ensuring they have a “predictable bill”. That's a funny way to say, “we want more money, and you have to pay.”
To be honest, this change probably won't affect very many people. ATT notes that the vast majority of customers with smartphones use data plans. When people buy an Internet phone they tend to want to have access to the Internet. This is a pretty transparent ploy to buff profit margins, but it's also not a big enough change that it is going to get a lot of customers up in arms.
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