I suppose it always felt a little weird that companies offered “unlimited” plans, but then bitched and moaned when users used more than people who have much more simple needs. Unlimited became this heavily marketed feature, that at first gave some companies a competitive advantage. Eventually, users began to expect this, or they’d leave the service provided by the unlimited-less company and find one that did. This forced almost all of the companies to provide unlimited.
But sneakily, unlimited was rarely ever unlimited. Reading the Terms and Conditions (that confusing T&C document that no one ever read, because it wasn’t written for people, it was written by lawyers for lawyers) would tell you that there was a limit, and that unlimited was not truly unlimited. Some clauses stated a particular bandwidth limit, minute count, or some other quantity that should never be passed. Others would simply mention that it was at their discretion that they would punish abusers.
Why all this marketing that they’re offering unlimited when they really weren’t? And how come they’re never punished? My theory is that elusive wording isn’t illegal, and they’re delivering on what they have stated. They’re banking on the fact that we don’t read the Terms and Conditions and the contracts that we’re given, and they’re getting away with it.
For example, Comcast advertises that their cable internet (and now their Xfinity product) is completely unlimited, at a certain speed for a certain price. Their unlimited doesn’t mean unlimited bytes transfered per month. It means unlimited bytes transfered per second up to the speed that you pay for, but not the aggregated count of what was transfered throughout the month. Confused yet? I still am. They’re somehow able to say “you can transfer up to speeds of X, but just don’t transfer more than Y per month” and call that unlimited. And they’re quick to state that they can’t always provide the “speeds of X” all the time, since it depends on usage patterns of other customers. That’s unlimited how, again?
Now some of these companies are retreating and removing their unlimited plans altogether. AT&T recently removed their 3G unlimited plan, and replaced it with a plan with a 2 gigabyte a month plan, with steep penalties for going over that limit. Hey, at least they’re now telling us very clearly what that limit is… kudos for that. But if they never really offered a truly unlimited plan before, then how can they just get away with removing it now. Has anything really changed? I propose that they can now justify charging users more since they’re clearly defining the plans up front, since users have to police themselves now.
Another bothering element in this world of unlimited-less companies are the consumers who rarely made use of their unlimited, shouting for joy that they’re no longer subsidizing data hogs who took advantage of the product that was advertised to them. They actually believe that the savings will be passed on to them. Why didn’t these people use the pre-existing tiered services that did exist before? There were non-unlimited plans available for a lot of services. But, it’s convenient for them to blast “data hogs” all over Internet forums now. Personally, I never went above my AT&T 3G limits (and I have 4 3G plans on 3 wireless lines, and 1 laptop card), and looking back, I’m well under 2GB almost always. But, I’m still offended that people are condemning others that took advantage of the unlimited. It’s not their fault. It’s the company’s fault for advertising unlimited in the first place.
You can’t just say “we have an unlimited product, but we’ll penalize you and shame you and ban you if you use more.” It’s wrong. But they did say it.
Now Comcast on the other hand, I went over my monthly soft-limit because I’m a heavy NetFlix Instant user. As a movie buff, I watch 3+ movies a day, and many of them are in HD. My family also uses it to watch many episodes of television series, and childrens movies for our son. Comcast had no problem categorizing me as a data hog, and then banning us for 12 months. This comes after upgrading to their faster service, which, doesn’t have any increased monthly limit. So what happens is you simply blow through your limit much faster. And I got punished for upgrading to a faster service, that was advertised as unlimited.
In the end, we were so fumed that we cancelled our television service with them as well (which had all the premium channels, etc). The left hand doesn’t really talk to the right hand there, so they don’t really care. But it left them with one customer who will never come back to be their customer.
We’re seeing an increasing demise of the use of unlimited. On the upside, we’re now more aware of what we’re using and what the limits are. But the downside is that we’re continuing to slip behind a lot of other countries who are more innovative in these areas, which leads to us being behind in a lot of other things.
Unlimited may now be a thing of the past, but it never truly existed.