When they say ‘unlimited,’ shouldn’t it be unlimited?

Apparently, “unlimited” does not mean what it used to.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of unlimited is “without any limits or restrictions; not limited in number or amount.”

But according to tech companies, the word means something entirely different.
Some examples:

Sprint recently announced that it would limit customers who used more than 23 GB of data during their billing cycle. They will prioritize them “on the network below other customers for the remainder of their billing cycle, only in times and locations where the network is constrained.(These customers will still be able to use unlimited amounts of data without the worry of overage charges.)”

Microsoft has changed its unlimited OneDrive storage plan to a limit of 1 TB. They claim that some customers “backed up numerous PCs and stored entire movie collections and DVR recordings. In some instances, this exceeded 75 TB per user or 14,000 times the average.”

AT&T is being sued for allegedly placing “numerous limiting conditions on its wireless service plans marketed as ‘unlimited,’ and either failed to disclose or adequately disclose the conditions to its consumers.”

I could go on. T-Mobile, Comcast, and Verizon are all limiting customers’ data in some way.

How did we get here?

Doesn’t a company that advertises an unlimited plan need to actually offer that plan? Shouldn’t it be held to its word? Is it right for a company to change the rules because it underestimated average use or because a small number of customers abuse their plans?

The Federal Communications Commission doesn’t think companies should mislead customers. AT&T began offering unlimited data plans in 2007. They stopped offering them to new customers in 2010, but continued “unlimited” plans for existing customers.

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Last June, the FCC fined AT&T $100 million, stating that “customers deserve to get what they pay for.”

The problem for AT&T and other tech companies is that when they offer unlimited plans, they don’t know how customers will use them nor do they know what technology may be coming that could allow for even more data to be used.

For instance, the iPhone 6 generates five times the data transmission in comparison with the iPhone 3GS. Apps are more plentiful, as is mobile video — you can even watch a football game, movie or favorite show on your phone now. That wasn’t possible in 2009 when the iPhone 3GS was released. Looking ahead, it is estimated that each user in North America will use 14 GB per month in 2020 — that’s more data than most family plans offer now.

Again, that’s not the consumer’s problem. If I sign up for an unlimited plan, I should get an unlimited plan.

It’s not going to get any better moving forward. As technology continues to advance, data usage will increase. Companies that offer unlimited plans need to keep up with changing technology.

One way around the problem of data limiting on your phone is to use Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi hotspots are almost everywhere now, and you can adjust the settings on your phone to sign into them automatically. Even at my house I connect to Wi-Fi to save on my data usage.

One warning: If you choose this option, be sure you are connected to secure Wi-Fi to avoid someone stealing your information.

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“Unlimited” does not mean what it used to. Regardless of the reason, if a company offers unlimited anything, it should deliver. It’s time for companies to remember that truth in advertising is what builds a loyal consumer base.

Should companies that offer unlimited plans be delivering truly unlimited data?

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Kent Lawrence

Kent Lawrence is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism. He is a husband, father to two, executive pastor, travel enthusiast and sometime writer. You can contact him at kent@kentlawrence.com.

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