All you can eat -- for cheap?

Comparing unlimited cellphone plans.

Published July 30, 2008 5:30PM (EDT)

In the Op-Ed "OPEC 2.0" in today's New York Times, Columbia law professor Tim Wu contends that "the information revolution is fueled by bandwidth," and "if we aren't careful, we're going to repeat the history of the oil industry by creating a bandwidth cartel."

Which got me thinking about voice and data plans, and the price of a gallon of that most precious liquid in the world, water.

A few days ago a worker knocked on my door to inform me my water was going to be shut off for failure to pay the bill. What bill? The one my landlord forgot to mention was my responsibility. I opened an account, which isn't very interesting, I know, but what is noteworthy is how my awareness shifted from not thinking about how much water I use to suddenly caring about it.

I can't say the same for whether I leave the TV on or stream YouTube videos around the clock because I pay one price for basic channels and broadband (plus $10 extra for Comcast's Blast option, which boosts my net access to 16 MBps). Nor do I think about how many bits I burn on my iPhone, which enjoys unlimited data at 3G speed for $30 a month with AT&T (required to activate the iPhone whether or not you use data).

That doesn't include my $50 voice plan of 1,500 anytime minutes (which I do think about) and free mobile-to-mobile minutes plus an additional $15 for 1,500 text messages, bringing my monthly grand total to $95 before tacking on fees and taxes. Not exactly cheap, but less pricey than most unlimited data plans offered by other mobile operators. Or so I thought, until I checked the big four -- AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile -- to compare data plan pricing. The findings were eye-opening.

AT&T: $30 to add unlimited data to voice plan; $130 for unlimited data and voice.

Verizon: $80 for unlimited data and e-mail and 450 voice minutes; up to $130 for unlimited voice and data.

T-Mobile: $40 to add unlimited e-mail and data (including BlackBerry devices) to voice plans; $60 to $90 for unlimited BlackBerry e-mail and data and 1,000 or 1,500 voice minutes, respectively.

Sprint: From $70 for 450 voice minutes and unlimited data to $100 for unlimited everything, including BlackBerry support, text, GPS, push-to-talk and Sprint TV. (Best deal.)

"The world is heading to all-you-can-eat voice and data instead of metered stuff," said iSkoot CEO Mark Jacobstein in a recent conversation, and I agree, though when the mobile operators will open the floodgates is anyone's guess.

One thing I can say with certainty right now is that my plan, when compared with those offered by T-Mobile and Sprint, in a word, sucks.

How about you? Is your data plan worth the price of admission? Comments welcome.

By Joe Hutsko

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