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Tech Tips: Considerations when phone contracts end

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 13, 2014 at 5:26 pm •  Published: August 13, 2014
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MALVERN, Iowa (AP) — As my two-year contract with Verizon came to an end last month, I had to resist the company's various promotions and discounts.

In accepting the offers, I'd have to give up Verizon's unlimited data plan, which lets me use the phone's cellular data connection as much as I want without overage fees. It's so good that both Verizon and AT&T have been phasing it out. Existing customers have been allowed to keep those plans, but they get kicked out once they accept these offers.

I am paying more to keep my unlimited plan, so I'll have to explain my reasoning. Whether or not you're still on an unlimited plan, you'll have similar things to consider when your phone contract expires.

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— Should I keep the unlimited data plan?

AT&T stopped offering unlimited plans to new customers in 2010, and Verizon followed in 2012. An undisclosed number of customers have kept those plans, but once they leave, they aren't allowed back.

Verizon has further enticed customers to switch by ending subsidies on new phones. That means customers like me have to pay full retail price, or about $650, for the latest high-end phone, even after the contract is up. Usually, it's $200.

New customers get a set amount of data to use each month, typically 2 gigabytes for a single phone line. Even with my unlimited plan, I rarely go over that amount. Yet I'm reluctant to cede it.

Beyond paying more for the phone, I'm paying about $10 a month more for voice, text and data compared with current rates for 2 gigabytes. I don't even get unlimited calls or texts — just data.

It's as though I'm throwing away money.

But that extra cost gives me peace of mind. I'm able to rely on my phone any time I have trouble with my wired broadband service at home. I'm able to visit friends without needing their Wi-Fi password. I can't use the phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot, but I can use it instead of my laptop for Web surfing.

I'm also recouping some of that cost in my travels. I avoided paying $45 for three days of Internet access at a San Francisco hotel. Between that stay and a daylong train trip down the Pacific Coast, I used nearly 6 gigabytes for streaming video.

I also consider the extra cost to be insurance. I have no idea what high-data apps and services might come along. I wasn't streaming video much when the two largest carriers stopped offering unlimited plans. Now, that's my primary way of watching television.

Families that want to share a pool of data will have to switch to a limited-use plan, as will individuals who don't want to pay for something they might not need. Not everyone will consider the extra cost worth it.

Unfortunately, Verizon will soon slow down service for its heaviest users — the top 5 percent — when there is congestion in a given area. It has already been doing that for 3G service and will extend that to higher-speed 4G network in October. I'll have to see how that affects my streaming.

AT&T already has been slowing down service once users reach 3 gigabytes or 5 gigabytes depending on the phone. Unlike Verizon, AT&T still allows unlimited-plan customers to get subsidized phones with a two-year contract extension.

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