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AT&T's Mobile Share plan hammers customers for data overages

AT&T offers customers a simple and flexible world where they don’t get to use as much data as they might like.

AT&T has announced a new plan called Mobile Share and it's pretty similar to a plan Verizon announced a few weeks ago. When one company does something, it's a story. When the top two carriers do the same thing, it's a trend.

Dan Ackerman is with CNET. He says, "AT&T is joining Verizon and some other companies and saying if you have let's say a family and everyone has a phone or a phone and a tablet, or some other way you want to combine devices, instead of each one having its own separate data plan you have to pay for, you can just get a bigger pool of data and everybody can share that."

Mobile Share lets you connect up to 10 devices on the same account. So if your family has five smartphones and a couple tablets, they could all be on one plan. Phone calls and text messages are unlimited, the data for your emails and videos and Facebook updates, that's capped. You can choose caps between 1 gigabyte of data per month on up to 200. Go over and you're charged $15 per gigabyte.

Of course, with a smartphone, the phone isn't what gets used the most. It's the data. Ackerman says, "We're entering this era where people are doing FaceTime or Skype video chats, they're streaming Netflix movies, they're streaming music off of Spotify, and if you're doing that over the phone company's data network rather than using Wi-Fi, you're using up tremendous amounts of data that somebody's going to have to pay for and at least for right now, it looks like that somebody's you."

AT&T's plan is different than Verizon's in that you won't be forced to join it if you upgrade your phone. You can stay with your old plan.

The company says Mobile Share will give you value and flexibility. Forgive my cynicism, AT&T, but I wonder what's in it for you? How do you profit?

Susan Crawford from Harvard's Kennedy School and Law School says the plan is about locking people in. "That's going to allow AT&T even more customers as all the nieces and nephews are forced to sign on, and that gives them tremendous scale and makes it even more difficult for Sprint and T-Mobile, who were already very far behind, to have any hope of competing effectively. So in the long run, this will make it easy for AT&T to raise prices, tack on all kinds of fees, they've already got a monthly device fee attached to this. There's no reason that couldn't get higher over time."

Unlimited data plans are going away. At the same time, more people want to use data to do more things on smartphones. What happens to those people? Crawford says, "They're going to hit these overage limits, and they'll either constrain themselves or buy more and more data from the provider, and at the same time, this gives the provider the notion of scarcity, digging deep into people's minds that they're not going to assume unlimited data for everything. They're going to assume that every time they watch a movie, they might get charged more. And all of this protects AT&T and Verizon from having to invest in their networks. There's no real competition forcing them to do so. They can just use this pricing forcing them to constrain usage."

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According to a recent study, Facebook was a fad and pretty soon we can put it up on the shelf next to the Pet Rock and Cabbage Patch Kids.

Okay, a bit of an overreaction. But a report from the research firm Capstone says Facebook users fell by just over 1 percent over six months in the U.S. and use of the site is falling all over the world.

And according to a recent study, people hate Facebook more than they used to. The American Customer Satisfaction Index surveys 70,000 consumers, rates companies from 1 to 100. Facebook's score of 61 is the lowest ever for a social media company. What did people hate most? Being forced to adopt the Facebook Timeline feature.

Bad news for Facebook. Great news for all of us because we got to listen to the According to a Recent Study song twice! It's by Darren Solomon, by the way. He's on Twitter @DarSolo.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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