Verizon to kill unlimited data plans for existing subscribers

Verizon Wireless subscribers who have held onto their $30-a-month unlimited data plans will soon be forced to upgrade to a new tiered offering the company plans to launch this summer, according to the Web site Fierce Wireless.

Verizon Communications CFO Fran Shammo told investors that the company’s 3G unlimited data plans that customers were allowed to hang onto last year when Verizon switched to a tiered offering will soon go away entirely. Instead, the company will migrate its existing and new 4G LTE customers to a new “data share plan.”

The company has yet to announce the details of this new plan, but it has said previously that the data share plan will be introduced in midsummer. The plan will allow people on the same family plan to share buckets of data each month, much like they share voice minutes and text messaging. It will also allow individuals to share data across different 4G LTE devices.

Verizon eliminated its unlimited data plan for smartphone users last July, about a year after AT&T had done the same thing. Like AT&T had done previously, Verizon told its existing unlimited data plan customers that they could keep their unlimited data plans even after their contracts expired. And Verizon has allowed its 3G wireless subscribers to upgrade to 4G LTE devices, while keeping their unlimited data plans.

But the company was always careful to say that it could change this policy in the future. And now it looks like that day has finally come. The way it will likely work is that as 3G unlimited contracts expire, Verizon will push subscribers to upgrade their devices to smartphones on company’s 4G LTE network. These customers will then have to sign up for the data share plans.

News of the end of the unlimited data plan is sure to upset some consumers who have held onto their existing accounts specifically for the unlimited benefit.

AT&T also offers this benefit to longtime smartphone customers. But the company has struggled to keep up with the demands of some of these users. In an effort to ensure that “grandfathered” unlimited users don’t hog the network, the company began slowing down a proportion of these heavy users. The move outraged many customers. One man sued AT&T in small-claims court and won. AT&T has since changed its policy and now only slows down or throttles users if they exceed 3GB of data per month.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile USA and Sprint Nextel still offer unlimited data plans. T-Mobile also slows down users if they consume too much data each month. But Sprint claims that it is the only major wireless carrier in the U.S. to still offer unfettered unlimited data. Some people question how long the carrier will be able to offer such a plan given the steep rise in data usage.

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