This morning, AT&T announced significant changes to its data plan which include an end to unlimited data for iPhones and iPads. The new options include:

  • DataPlus: 200MB for $15/mo; $15 per 200MB beyond limit
  • DataPro: 2GB for $25/mo; $10 per GB beyond limit
  • Tethering: $20/month for DataPro customers only

The 2GB, $25 DataPro plan is the only choice for iPad users.

I went ahead and analyzed my last 12 iPhone bills. It turns out that I only consumed more than 200MB of cellular data per month once in the last year (475MB). The big variable is how mobile you are, and how much Wi-Fi access you have. That said, I’m guessing the DataPro option, at 2GB and $5 cheaper than the current unlimited plan, will be sufficient for a significant majority of iPhone users. Those using, say, 3GB of data will now be paying $35 per month instead of $30.

The psychological impact of this, then, seems worse than the reality. But that’s something that needs to be taken into account when making an announcement. AT&T could have acknowledged this and met inevitable criticism head on, but instead claimed to be “breaking free” from a bleak world of unlimited consumption. The press release is hubristic at best. Only a carrier could pull this off so flawlessly.

The big announcement, though, is tethering. Tethering will finally arrive for AT&T customers with iPhone OS 4.0, which of course explains why we didn’t get it in 2009 like international customers running 3.0: Apple was late in shipping the OS. Or something.

Tethering also requires that customers adopt the more expensive DataPro plan, and leeches from the DataPro bandwidth you were already paying for rather than buying you any more. In other words, AT&T is charging you $20 per month to hack a settings file. Since the file is on the phone, which is made and managed by Apple, one wonders why AT&T should get any money for this.

These changes take effect Monday, June 7, the day of the WWDC keynote. I’m sure Apple is thrilled to be preempted by such fantastic news.