AT&T Is Happy To Remove Wireless Broadband Caps, But Only If You Sign Up For Its TV Services

We’re formally now bearing witness to the “synergistic” fruit of AT&T’s $69 billion recent acquisition of DirecTV. When the deal was first proposed, even Wall Street wondered why AT&T would spend that kind of money on a satellite TV provider on the eve of the cord cutting revolution. But AT&T has a very clear plan of attack, and as we recently noted, its first move post merger was to raise the rates of DirecTV and AT&T U-Verse TV customers in perfect unison. Now AT&T has added a new wrinkle to its post-merger plans, bringing back unlimited wireless broadband data — but only if you sign up for the company’s television services.

According to a new company announcement, customers who sign up for both AT&T wireless service and AT&T U-Verse TV or DirecTV service can nab unlimited data for $100 per month, plus $40 per month for each additional device:

“The new AT&T Unlimited Plan includes unlimited data and unlimited talk and text. Customers can get the AT&T Unlimited Plan on a smartphone for $100 per month. Additional smartphones are $40 per month each, and a fourth smartphone can be added at no additional cost. The new AT&T Unlimited Plan is the first of many integrated video and mobility offers the company plans to announce in 2016.”

Note your mileage may vary as to whether this is actually a good deal. For instance this plan requires users pay $40 a month to add a tablet to the plan, which is only $10 a month if you remain on AT&T’s metered data plans. Obviously many users won’t be able to take advantage of the offer if they’re not within AT&T’s U-Verse fiber-to-the-node TV service footprint, or can’t get a clear shot at DirecTV’s satellites.

AT&T’s move is just the latest in a long saga involving unlimited data. AT&T announced it was eliminating unlimited data plans in 2010. And while it grandfathered existing unlimited data users at the time, it has waged a quiet war on those users ever since. The company worked tirelessly to drive these users to metered plans, going so far as to block some video services from working unless users switched to metered plans. The company was also caught throttling these unlimited connections after just 5 GB of usage, resulting in an FCC fine and an FTC lawsuit that AT&T continues to fight to this day.

After its run in with regulators, AT&T’s been slightly more transparent about the fact its unlimited data plans aren’t truly unlimited. In the fine print of this week’s offer, AT&T is quick to note that again, by “unlimited” AT&T really means limited:

“After 22GB of data usage on a line in a bill cycle, for the remainder of the bill cycle AT&T may slow data speeds on that line during periods of network congestion.”

Obviously AT&T wants users to believe this is a wonderful example of how AT&T intends to deliver cross-brand value, and to some degree the move is a response to T-Mobile’s competitive pressure. However, when you realize that usage caps are largely arbitrary and not tied to any real-world technical or economic justifications, AT&T’s basically just using artificial barriers to drive consumers to its own branded products. With AT&T’s ongoing flirtations with testing net neutrality via zero rating, one can only imagine some of the dubious cross-brand “synergies” AT&T has planned for 2016.