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Friday, June 25, 2010

Draft reply to Ofcom: network neutrality

Dear sirs
I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to Ofcom's informal consultation on traffic management and note our previous conversations on this matter. This response notes your outstanding concerns that a regulatory agency, even one as august as Ofcom, is limited in its field of inquiry and is not suited to conducting an inquiry into the wider implications of network neutrality.
Indeed, given the broad policy questions about innovation policy that this inquiry suggests, it is frankly close to pointless (though elegantly and competently done) for Ofcom to conduct its walk-through of discrimination and two-sided market analysis.There is real value in your proposals for consumer transparency in Chapter 5, and it is here that I focus.
I attempt to answer the eleven questions posed, but also attach a working article on the wider issues that will be considered more fully by the European Commission and hopefully by your parent departments. As you are aware, I authored a monograph on these issues in Janaury 2010 which has now been downloaded more than 100,000 times and has been submitted as evidence to the FCC NPRM in March. It is also in wide circulation in BEREC, the CRTC, PTS Norway and the European Commission.
i) How enduring do you think congestion problems are likely to be on different networks and for different players?
On mobile, there is likely to be a more or less permanent attempt by the oligopolistic networks to block rival applications, especially streamed video, voice and peer-to-peer file-sharing.
On fixed networks, the cable network should be able to provide backhaul at reasonable levels with adequate backhaul investments. Its current policies intend to throttle for 10 hours in the 10am-9pm period which is not promising.
British Telecom should also be able to supply its own backhaul and that to its competitors at regulated levels, but this depends on the regulator showing the ability to recognise that exponential increases in backhaul capacity need to be matched by exponential decreases in wholesale costs to its competitors and retail arm. Neither I, nor other independent analysts (notably Burstein and Odlyzko) are hopeful of BT and other incumbents' incentives to achieve this, nor regulators' competence and vigour in pressing for such a solution.
ii) What do you think are possible incentives for potentially unfair discrimination?
See our 200-page report for BIS, DCMS and Ofcom in 2006:
We discuss at great length the potential investment-chilling effects of such regulation in the work Ofcom commissioned from RAND on the Audio Visual Media Services Directive in 2006.
I hold to those conclusions.
iii) Can you provide any evidence of economic and or consumer value generated by traffic management?
Note that it is a useful threat to block business cases for independent video or voice over IP offers, as we discuss at great length in the work Ofcom, BIS and DCMS commissioned on the Audio Visual Media Services Directive in 2006 - in this case, Ofcom substitutes the chilling effects of European regulation with the equally chilling effects of private ISP regulation. We find it bizarre that Ofcom cannot see the parallel.
iv) Conversely, do you think that unconstrained traffic management has the potential for (or is already causing) consumer/citizen harm? Please include any relevant evidence.
See our 200-page report for BIS, DCMS and Ofcom in 2006, detailing the effects of regulation on innovation (especially Appendix 1 on investment-shifting games):
v) Can you provide any evidence that allowing traffic management has a negative impact on innovation?
Can anyone prove a negative?
The questions you should ask are:
Can a developer rely on an open Internet in future?
Has an open Internet led to innovation in the past?
Did guaranteed Quality of Service on the telecoms and ATM networks lead to less or more innovation than that in the Internet in the thirty years since 1980?
vi) Ofcom’s preliminary view is that there is currently insufficient evidence to justify ex ante regulation to prohibit certain forms of traffic management. Are you aware of evidence that supports or contradicts this view?
Ofcom itself is well aware that ISPs - especially non-dominant ISPs - have been engaged in traffic discrimination for at least five years that has led to huge user frustration and complaints to ISPs - who relayed these complaints to Ofcom in 2006. See
Given that all ISPs have such incentives due to the incentives between layers in the Internet value mesh, the claim that there is insufficient evidence is a condemnation of Ofcom's evidence gathering and ISPs' failure to report complaints, not of ISP users.
vii) Ofcom’s preliminary view is that more should be done to increase consumer transparency around traffic management. Do you think doing so would sufficiently address any potential concerns and why?
It may, but as your Chapter 4 analysis fails to comprehend the underlying reasons for discrimination (incentives between layers, rather than vertical integration by incumbents with market power), there appears inadequate understanding of the competitive dynamics between layers.
viii) Are you aware of any evidence that sheds light on peoples’ ability to understand and act upon information they are given regarding traffic management?
As you are aware from my work with Jonathan Cave and others on video, interactive gaming and mobile video, there is a pressing need to examine these individual sectors and their prosumers' response to traffic management. It is now urgent that Ofcom - or more properly BIS - carries out this work, especially in the field of interactive gaming, in which the UK formerly led the world in innovation and development, based on an educated user base. The reasons for our relative decline in that field deserve immediate inquiry.
ix) How can information on traffic management be presented so that it is accessible and meaningful to consumers, both in understanding any restrictions on their existing offering, and in choosing between rival offerings? Can you give examples of useful approaches to informing consumers about complex issues, including from other sectors?
See my proposed co-regulatory solution outlined in the book: Net Neutrality: Towards a Co-Regulatory Solution (2010) Bloomsbury Academic, London.
x) How can compliance with transparency obligations best be verified?
The only verifiable solutions, as Ofcom itself has made clear, is an independent website to offer QoS information on a quarterly if not monthly basis, accompanied by Ofcom and SamKnows (or another partner's) mystery shopper tests. Currently, many ISPs are engaged more in garrotting than throttling of bandwidth for their paying customers. The size of print, in marketing materials for new customers, that 'explains' this is miniscule and brief to the point of invisibility.
xi) Under what circumstances do you think the imposition of a minimum quality of service would be appropriate and why?
It is essential for both prosumers and developers that a minimum level of Internet access be provided. ISPs should not be allowed to advertise themselves as providers of public broadband communications if they intend to remove the majority of that bandwidth for large periods of the day from their customers. They appear to have forgotten that they are common carriers, and Ofcom needs to reassert its regulatory authority and remind them. The Code of Practice from 2008 - to be revised during this consultation period in response to obvious ISP failure to comply as revealed by Ofcom's mystery shopping as well as thousands of complaints made by customers through ISP fora online - is hopefully the beginning of that process.
I am always available to amplify these points. I congratulate Ofcom for provoking this debate and hope the new government will show some kind of leadership on the wider issues, not least freedom of expression and privacy, so poorly neglected in the previous silence on this issue, not least in the Digital Britain report and the mute BIS response on net neutrality to the latest EC Implementation report questionnaire.
Chris Marsden

Ofcom blows the whistle on itself on self-regulation

You may recall I discussed in 2008 just how 'voluntary' the ISP Code of Conduct on broadband really was? Well, Ofcom appears to have inadvertently told the truth in its net neutrality discussion:
"Ofcom has already introduced information requirements through our Code of Practice on Broadband Speeds...Within Ofcom’s Code of Practice on broadband speeds, there is also a requirement to provide information on policies on fair usage, traffic management and traffic shaping...We are planning to publish the new code after the summer." [pp37-38, Chapter 5]
So it is Ofcom's Code, not the ISPs', which was always obvious to insiders, but its good to have it confirmed. the ISPs intended to do precisely nothing without the regulators' cattle prod. Elsewhere, Ofcom suggests several alternatives for actually getting ISPs to spill the beans on QoS:

"5.48 We recognise that the use of traffic management techniques is, by its nature, difficult for consumers to detect and understand. It is therefore, critical that consumers are fully informed of any traffic prioritisation, degradation or blocking policies being applied by their network operator or ISP and that they are able to factor these in when making purchasing or switching decisions. This is important not just from the point of view of consumers’ rights, but also relevant to the question of whether stricter rules may be required on discrimination."
For what its worth, I suggest they should allow consumers to measure their speed of access (I can do this currently with my 3 mobile connection), and think they MUST offer their own website detailing traffic management based on quarterly ISP metrics.

Ofcom: show us the money on net neutrality

As Ofcom rightly points out, based on conventional economic analysis, there is no evidence that fundamentally changing the nature of the Internet will slow down the pace of innovation. That said, they ignored the 2006 evidence in front of all their top brass (from 12:26) that net neutrality was a serious problem, so don't hold your breath, you can't prove a negative:
"4.50 It is possible to postulate a future scenario in which the introduction of traffic management and the kind of charging models described in this chapter lead to a different kind of internet economy, in which the space available for the ‘best efforts’ internet – and the low barriers to market entry and innovation that it guarantees – is reduced. If this outcome starts to emerge, it is likely that this would lead to pressure to regulate to avert this. One possibility would be to use the powers to impose minimum quality of service to define a ‘best efforts’ internet to which all network operators and ISPs would have to designate a certain proportion of network capacity. However, we re-emphasise that there is as yet no evidence that this problem is arising, and good reasons to doubt that it will arise, given the current competitive market structure and the incentives on network operators and ISPs existing within that market structure."
However, while we slaughter, or at least harass, the golden goose (whose eggs are in any case mainly harvested in the US, while Europeans have enjoyed consumer welfare increases based on telco value destruction by BitTorrent and Skype), is there not at least a bit of room to consider that there have been vast - simply vast - 'prosumer' (EU jargon) benefits from the freedom to tinker that a neutral Internet gave us? Yes, but that's not strictly within the bounds of the economic analysis performed according to Ofcom. This is a serious and seriously bounded economic analysis of net neutrality. Stupid monkeys abound!
That's not Ofcom's fault necessarily, its just a statement of why the government should be having direct citizen consultation on net neutrality rather than delegating it to a regulatory agency that necessarily has to limit its investigation. We were promised by the Tory opposition that there would be more policy making by government rather than Ofcom after they were elected? Not that such a prospect fills me with joy as the government is in denial, but it would at least consider options in view of the announced review of the E-Commerce Directive, for instance.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ofcom consultation: nothing to see here

Ofcom has issued its 'do-nothing' consultation on net neutrality - they're not big fans, though a bit more consumer transparency is accepted and there's some analysis of discrimination and market power, which isn't terribly relevant to the n-sided market concern that there is simply no incentive for ISPs to support P2P applications. Rather cunningly, this consultation (deadline 9 September) was launched just as 800,000 concurrent iPlayer streams had all but overwhelmed ISP networks yesterday as In-gur-land proceeded erratically to their date with ze Germans.
As you would expect of Ofcom, its well written and argued, and beautifully produced - check out the 'garrotting' continuum on page6! Below that lovely diagram is the ugly assertion: "it is widely accepted that the blocking of illegal content (such as images of child abuse) is necessary and that steps taken to address issues such as online copyright infringement would be viewed as acceptable traffic management." Really? Aren't both forms of censorship that do nothing to solve the problem - i.e. removing the actual kiddie porn from source, and reforming copyright business models while actively prosecuting commercial filesharing frauds? Ah well....
More later. It really is a good read. Unfortunately it won't deal with wider issues: "questions of fundamental rights and industrial and public service policies are beyond the scope of this discussion document as they are matters for Government." [pp7-8]. It begs the question as to why BIS has not yet consulted directly on this issue.

World Cup and the Internet

A peak of 14million UK viewers (according to BARB, they can't count mass audiences in pubs, the 100,000 watching at Glastonbury's festival Pyramid stage etc. so add a million) watched England hang on against the mighty Slovenes yesterday afternoon - presumably the highest workday audience of all time? It was lower than the evening 17.7million versus nailed-on-guaranteed semi-finalists USA or the 19million versus pretty-but-scoreless Algeria.
More pertinent, the BBC was serving a record 800,000 concurrent UK streams on iPlayer - I 'enjoyed' it on SuperJANET and it was pretty superb quality with almost no jitter on that Gigabit network. That more than doubled the BBC's previous record and must have put a hell of a strain on the content delivery network and not a few office networks - but of course the wholesale ISP networks suffered: "Demon says there was a 55% increase in internet traffic during the match, while Easynet put the spike in traffic at kick-off at 226%."
Regular readers will note that Paraguay and its mobile surfers are playing the surprise package of New Zealand's 'All-Whites' this afternoon. This blog as Paraguay supporters predicts a dull 0-0 or a 1-0 Paraguay win and they will sail into the last-16.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Private lobbying in FCC on net neutrality - shocking, shocking...

I was shocked, shocked to hear that the FCC was triangulating between Google and the Bells....
No, not really, I didn't think so either. Will Washington ever work out what it finds politically expedient to state about net neutrality? Its not often that Brussels feels smug about its fast-moving dynamic pro-innovation lead over DC...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

John Naughton on the Internet's effect on us

The ever-thoughtful and engaging John Naughton has an excellent article in The Guardian about 9 lenses through which to view the Internet's effect. Alongside John Seely-Brown, I think he's an essential read on where we might (and might not) be going - sagacious.
Here's a small sample:
"The first printed bibles emerged in 1455 from the press created by Johannes Gutenberg in the German city of Mainz. Now, imagine that the year is 1472 — ie 17 years after 1455. Imagine, further, that you're the medieval equivalent of a Mori pollster, standing on the bridge in Mainz with a clipboard in your hand and asking pedestrians a few questions. Here's question four: On a scale of one to five, where one indicates "Not at all likely" and five indicates "Very likely", how likely do you think it is that Herr Gutenberg's invention will: (a) Undermine the authority of the Catholic church? (b) Power the Reformation? (c) Enable the rise of modern science? (d) Create entirely new social classes and professions? (e) Change our conceptions of "childhood" as a protected early period in a person's life? On a scale of one to five! You have only to ask the questions to realise the fatuity of the idea. Printing did indeed have all of these effects, but there was no way that anyone in 1472, in Mainz (or anywhere else for that matter) could have known how profound its impact would be."
ERRATUM: John writes for The Observer but as I consume almost all my news (Private Eye the exception) online, and The Guardian website consumes its uneasy 'partner', I "read it on" TheGuardian.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

World Cup Dublin hiatus

You'd think after the 'Hand of Thierry' that Dublin would be a place to avoid the World Cup, but show an Irishman a sports event that starts after midday and there'll be good craic. I'm in Brussels from tomorrow night for the Future of the Internet workshop, then Dublin Friday-Sunday talking Internet co-regulation.
I imagine there are interesting technology angles on the World Cup (NOT vuvuzelas), after all I used to write about terrestrial TV rights cartels in Europe and the failure to monetize Internet viewing (it was seen to erode TV advertising that funded FIFA's expansion). But the best I can come up with is Paraguay, best underdogs of the World Cup after leading and drawing with world champions Italy, and in-game storage solutions for your mobile.
If you don't like it, you're not South American. I like the look of utter disbelief and focus on the guy's face - this is the moment they scored. Frankly they both look about to burst into tears of shock. Maybe they've been checking scores using data roaming...

Crisis, what crisis? Throttling to be replaced by Virgin's garrotting

I have received some very expensive and personalized glossy brochures from Virgin cable - their street furniture is in my hedge 3 metres from my window so I know they are there, but they kindly tell me that if only I will take their fixed line phone (why would I pay £12/month when I have a mobile?) they will supply me fibre to the said cabinet. However, in the small print on the back page, they explain:
"Traffic management policy applies 4-9pm and 10am-3pm."
Erm, that's any time after my first cup of tea. That's garrotting, not throttling. Its also so hidden in the small print that I may be the first potential customer ever to read it.
It reflects a worldwide trend towards extreme traffic management, it seems, which Dave Burstein sees as running exactly counter to technology and usage trends - bandwidth is getting cheaper (especially for mobile), punters are using less P2P and video, so allround CAPEX is decreasing - the ISPs should be coining it in. Why all the anti-piracy when the market has already turned?
He quotes a Wall Street analyst: "These new wireless bundles from ATT seem demonically brilliant! See the cap rates? ATT is going to be flowing in extra money and quickly."
Elsewhere, appalling roaming data rates are featured in El Reg, which have got even worse for non-EU travel since the EU roaming regulation was introduced.

Openness: radical new agenda by Neelie Kroes

Neelie Kroes has set out a really quite radical agenda to ensure interoperability in European ICT procurement and regulation, drawing on her experiences in regulating Microsoft and the procedural frustrations she felt in that case. in Speech 10/300 Address at Open Forum Europe 2010 Summit: 'Openness at the heart of the EU Digital Agenda' Brussels, 10th June 2010 she sets out a five-part agenda:

  1. New stand-setting framework at end-2010: “In Europe only ETSI allows these actors to directly participate in the making of standards. One negative result is that the standards underpinning the emerging universal communication platform: the internet and the world wide web - including standards for content formats - are made elsewhere. This puts these standards, many of which are truly open - that is to say they do not come with any constraints for implementers - at a disadvantage vis-à-vis European standards when in legislation or public procurement...[Solving] This could be done via a fast-track approval of their standards through a process hosted by a traditional European standards body such as ETSI, or through the assessment of these bodies' compliance with certain criteria regarding notably openness, consensus, balance and transparency.”
2. “let's face it, establishing FRAND (Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory) prices is a hard task over which reasonable people often disagree. Transparency is therefore in everyone's interest - the alternatives are not... The Commission has already taken an important step by drafting new guidelines on the application of the Treaty's antitrust rules to horizontal agreements... The draft, which is currently available for public comment, relies on the well-established concepts of non-discrimination, transparency and availability and specifies minimum requirements that distinguish standard-setting from a cartel.”“when the Commission mandates standards bodies to draw up a standard it should have the right to be more demanding on the standardisation process, to ensure that standards are less demanding when it comes to their adoption. We could also think about enticing other standards bodies to adopt such rules, for example by giving their outputs preferential treatment when approving them as European standards. Finally, why not tie the public financing of standards bodies to the existence of good ex-ante rules?”
“We don’t want uniform rules everywhere... Standard-setting for software interoperability is not the same as setting a new standard for, say, digital television or mobile telephony. We should have the right rules in the right contexts...I am convinced that a more visible role for fora and consortia standardisation in Europe will already lead to many improvements here.”
3. “we will draw up detailed guidance on how to analyse a technology buyer's requirements in order to make best use of ICT standards in tender specifications. This is a complex exercise... Many authorities have found themselves unintentionally locked into proprietary technology for decades.” She means lazy procurement or to be more polite, 'inertia sets in'. Or corruption, of course.
4. “I want to put in place a new European Interoperability Framework. This second version of the EIF is foreseen to be adopted at the level of the College of Commissioners, and will therefore rightly be perceived as of a higher status and importance than EIF version 1. Both the Framework and an Interoperability Strategy paper are foreseen for 2010.” It contains a ‘comply or explain’ requirement when governments do not adopt an available open standard, as already applies in the Netherlands.
Most radically: 5. “with my colleagues in the College I will seriously explore all options to ensure that significant market players cannot just choose to deny interoperability with their product. You no doubt remember that I have some experience with reticent high-tech companies: I had to fight hard and for several years until Microsoft began to license missing interoperability information. Complex anti-trust investigations followed by court proceedings are perhaps not the only way to increase interoperability. The Commission should not need to run an epic antitrust case every time software lacks interoperability. Wouldn't it be nice to solve all such problems in one go?... I am looking for a way to ensure companies offer the required information for licensing... Whereas in ex-post investigations we have all sorts of case-specific evidence and economic analysis on which to base our decisions, we are forced to look at more general data and arguments when assessing the impact of ex-ante legislation. Just to be clear, while it is still early days, it is certainly possible that I will go for a legislative proposal.”
This is radical stuff and may take years but is worth the effort!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Rum, sodomy, the lash and co-regulation

Back on 23 October, I blogged 'You have to love Jon Peha for Paragraph 177 - the Technical Advisory Process - so perhaps the lunatics won't get to entirely run the asylum in the 120 days of sodom that the NPRM will unleash.' Well, there's been a good deal more rum, sodomy and the lash than 120 days (more like 8 months and counting), despite my hope in February of 'Reasonable People Achieving Consensus?'
Now the industry is planning a BITAG - Broadband Industry Technical Advisory Group. Simple question - why would the FCC accept a self-regulatory group when it could 'trust but verify' and go down the co-regulatory route? As the Open Internet Coalition stated: "We strongly feel as with all self-regulatory regimes, this can only be effective with a legal backstop to enforce voluntary industry rules at the FCC. Without such a backstop, this approach will be toothless and ultimately ineffective."
Quite. The fact Google is supporting it does not make it better than co-regulation.
UPDATE: the usual scuffles have broken out in DC between those who take Adam Smith's name in vain on one side, and Free Press which oddly wants to grind through yet more FCC processes on the other.
UPDATE 2: the BITAG will be chaired by Dale Hatfield, who has done more or less everything forever in telecoms policy, though his speciality is spectrum reform rather than Torrent protocols. But he's certainly a safe pair of hands, could be Jon Peha's godfather (cue music...). I would not immediately mark him down as someone to bang heads together with the incumbents, but its self- not co-regulatory, so that's probably not top of the list of skills required.

European Court of Justice confirms legal basis for mobile roaming Regulation

The UK mobiles brought a case that was referred to the ECJ, which found that the limited time intervention of imposing a Regulation rather than a Directive or some less immediate action was justified. As the Regulation is extended to mid-2012 and is to be reviewed by the ECJ in mid-2011, it may not be extended beyond that point - but will it have done its job in convincing mobiles to lower costs by then? Bill shock may only be temporarily suspended...

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

By mid-2015 'we want Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe'

That's the UK's broadband minister talking in the Big Speech of the new government - of course he knows it won't happen, he just wants it. I want free fish and chips for life.
He never defines super-fast but its likely to mean VDSL - so that suggests a very high proportion by then, and BT has recently announced that VDSL is cheap and its plugged its Global Services hole so it can roll out further faster. My parents certainly won't have it - or want it - in their leafy ADSL2+ exchange in the countryside. I don't see that we're going to compete with Finland on that basis and with £200m  ('making money available from the under-spend of the TV Digital Switchover Help Scheme').
What he did say - apart from trailing the Broadband Delivery UK 15 July conference on the details - was that he wanted to ensure duct sharing and pole-sharing and wanted to introduce legislation if Virgin and other networks other than BT did not play ball. In the medium-term that might provide for some radical alternatives, and perhaps 80% coverage. That still leaves a lot of ADSL2+ households in the countryside, and quite a few with next to nothing in the deeper country.
As the government also today told us we're broke, I can't think what else he could have done. There's no subsidy cash.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Friday, June 04, 2010

Co-regulation? New blog active

A lot of American readers of this blog - and thank you to the thousand monthly readers - have been asking me what this co-regulation thing is all about?
I can refer them to my paper with Jonathan Cave from TPRC'08 and vast EC project of 2007-8 - but also now to my new blog about my next book project, written for Cambridge University Press and due out next summer (2011).
I will be blogging less here - and encouraging Jasper and others to guest-blog more (volunteers warmly welcomed!) - and more on the - notably about my various speeches later this month in Dublin and elsewhere.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Obscene international mobile roaming charges (continued): World Cup edition

The UK consumer watchdog, Consumer Focus, has warned football fans going to South Africa to be very careful not to use thew Internet via their phones, or send/receive phone calls, during their stay - especially assuming that Vodafone's SA network will be fair in its roaming prices (get a Passport before you go)! As I have previously blogged here and here, consumers assume that its same technology, same network, so same price - and the 100,000% mark-up comes as a surprise.
This scandal continues to grow - regulate EU roaming charges and the GSM cabal just raises international rates. Now that's what I call anti-net neutrality!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

European Commission insists on physical unbundling of GPON and VDSL networks

How different Brussels is from Washington! The EC has grudgingly allowed virtual unbundling on BT's NGA - subject to future physical unbundling, and only because BT's access division has been functionally separated into OpenReach. Note also the insistence on cost-oriented pricing.
In general, the EC insists on using its Article 7 powers to enforce NGA unbundling to prevent incumbents seizing the market. How different to the US (and Japan) - and given the risk premium it permits to incumbents, how competitive!

Pretty iPhones and iPads but AT&T won't let you max them out

Very interesting to see the data caps being put on the AT&T Wireless network: 200MB for the many (65%, they say) at only $15/month, 2GB for heavy users, increasing usage at $10 per GB. Forget the idea that your shiny Apple device will replace fixed-line access (even with free WiFi use on these plans). But you can keep your existing contract/device and even renew it so the glide into these caps is gradual.
To repeat the obvious: mobile is NO SUBSTITUTE for fixed. Regulators need to grasp this.
'The new high-end plan, called DataPro, gets you 2GB of data use for $25 per month. If you go over 2GB, you'll pay $10 for each 1GB increment. For example, if you use 3.5GB, you'll pay $25 + 10 + 10, or $45 for the month. AT&T is not offering an unlimited data tier at any price. The company says that 98 percent of its customers use less than 2GB of data, so among these two plans, all but the heaviest data users should theoretically save on their monthly bill....unless you are interested in the new smartphone tethering plan. AT&T will charge you an additional $20 to use your smartphone for wireless data use with a laptop or other device. However, tethering can only be combined with the 2GB DataPro plan...These pricing plans go into effect on June 7 for all new AT&T customers signing up for new contracts, and current users can switch to the new plans without a contract extension. Those that are currently on a two-year contract for a $30 per month unlimited data plan can continue to use it, and can even renew their contract and keep the same data plan as long as they continue to use the same device.'