June 28, 2018 at 11:56AM
AT&T has been offering free HBO to its unlimited data customers since last year, and you might have expected that deal to continue unaltered now that AT&T owns HBO thanks to its acquisition of Time Warner Inc.
But AT&T revamped its two unlimited mobile plans this week, and in the process it raised the price for the entry-level plan by $5 a month while removing the free HBO perk. The entry-level unlimited plan now starts at $70 instead of $65.
Existing customers can keep their old plan and the free HBO, but new customers or those who switch plans will have to buy the more expensive unlimited plan to get HBO at no added cost.
AT&T did add some video options to both plans, however. Both unlimited plans get AT&T's new "WatchTV" streaming service that comes with more than 30 channels, and buyers of the more expensive unlimited plan can choose to get HBO or another premium add-on.
While "HBO is no longer included on the lower-priced plan," "customers who remain on their existing plan won't see any change and will keep the HBO benefit for as long as they remain on their current plan," AT&T told Ars.
Separately, AT&T recently raised the "administrative fee" charged to postpaid wireless customers from $0.76 to $1.99 per month, according to BTIG Research. "We believe the effective $1.23 increase per line impacts at least 85 percent of the 64.5 million postpaid phone lines in service, resulting in $800 million of incremental service revenue [per year]," the analyst firm wrote.
"This is a standard administrative fee across the wireless industry, which helps cover costs we incur for items like cell-site maintenance and interconnection between carriers," AT&T said in a statement to Ars.
The fee is charged for each line and applies only to postpaid customers, AT&T said.
The two plans, compared
The old unlimited plans were called "Unlimited Plus Enhanced" and "Unlimited Choice Enhanced." They both had various limits, but the "unlimited" name is used for plans that don't charge overage fees for going over a monthly cap.
Unlimited Plus started at $80 per month for one line, while Unlimited Choice started at $65 per month for one line. Both came with a free HBO subscription, but only Unlimited Plus received high-definition video quality and 15GB worth of high-speed mobile hotspot use. The cheaper version could be throttled (or "temporarily experience slower speeds during busy times" as AT&T described it) even if you haven't used much data. Unlimited Plus was only throttled during busy times after customers used at least 22GB a month.
Both Unlimited Plus and Unlimited Choice came with HBO, which could be redeemed either as part of an AT&T video service or through streaming apps.
The new entry-level plan is called "Unlimited & More," and there's no HBO perk. The plan starts at $70 a month for one person. The two-line price was raised from $120 to $125 a month, and the three-line price was raised from $140 to $145 a month. The four-line price remains the same at $160.
The new entry-level plan's limitations are pretty much the same as on the old Unlimited Choice plan—data can be slowed down at any time of the month, video quality is capped to about 480p, and there is no hotspot usage.
The new "Unlimited & More Premium" tier has the same prices as the old Unlimited Plus plan: $80 for one line, $150 for two, $170 for three, and $190 for four. It also comes with 15GB of high-speed hotspot usage, as well as HD video streaming, and it can only be throttled after you use 22GB.
Unlimited & More Premium buyers can get HBO for free, or they can pick Cinemax, Showtime, Starz, or VRV. Alternatively, they can opt for a subscription to Pandora Premium or Amazon Music. Customers can switch from one of these options to another once every 12 months.
The WatchTV service that comes with both of the new unlimited plans includes these channels: A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, Audience, BBC America, BBC World News, Boomerang, Cartoon Network, CNN, Discovery, Food Network, FYI, Hallmark, Hallmark M&M, HGTV, History, HLN, IFC, Investigation Discovery, Lifetime, Lifetime Movies, OWN, Sundance, Taylor Swift Now, TBS, TCM, TLC, TNT, TruTV, Velocity, Viceland, and WeTV.
AT&T notes that "all channels, programming, and content are subject to change and may be modified or discontinued without notice."
via Ars Technica