Verizon: No free tethering for unlimited data plan customers

It turns out that Verizon will still be charging unlimited data plan customers if they want to share their 3G and 4G connections by tethering with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or USB-empowered devices.

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Verizon declares there will be no free tethering for its unlimited data plan customers.

For Verizon's remaining unlimited data customers, it's turned out that Verizon being required to offer free tethering  -- letting other devices share a 3G or 4G connection via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or USB -- was too good to be true.

According to Verizon, customers with unlimited data plans must still pay the $20 a month fee to Verizon before they can share their connection.

Debra Lewis, Verizon's director of public relations, said in an e-mail: "The tethering fee charged by Verizon Wireless reflects the fact that customers who tether multiple devices may be expected to use more data than customers who do not."

She added: "Under the terms of the unlimited data plans, customers are not limited in the amount of data they can use with a single device, but if they choose to tether additional devices they are required to pay an additional fee to account for the greater usage. Our service is called Mobile Broadband Connect."

Verizon is no longer offering unlimited data plans. Instead, the network giant is now offering Share Everything plans that offer unlimited voice and text, but doesn't offer unlimited data options. These plans do include free tethering, however.

Customers with grandfathered 3G and 4G unlimited data plans will still have to pay. Of course, with these plans your network bandwidth has been effectively throttled since last fall.

I also asked Verizon when they'd implement the new tethering policy for customers; if they'd offer refunds to customers who had been paying for Mobile Broadband Connect; and if customers using third-party tethering applications would still need to call Verizon customer service to activate tethering.

Lewis replied:

Verizon Wireless provides our customers with the most advanced wireless broadband services available over our next-generation 4G LTE network. We have invested billions of dollars in technology providing customers with an open platform that encourages robust innovation and choices to meet their needs.

We have made clear to our customers that when using our services, they can go where they want and do what they want on the Internet, using the lawful applications and devices of their choice.

Verizon Wireless has always allowed its customers to use the lawful applications of their choice on its networks, and it did not block its customers from using third-party tethering applications. This consent decree puts behind us concerns related to an employee's communication with an app store operator about tethering applications, and allows us to focus on serving our customers."

Earlier, Rich Young, Verizon’s director of media relations for human resources issues, told The New York Times that Verizon had not blocked customers from using third-party apps. Verizon blamed third-party tethering apps being blocked on an employee who had been working with the Google’s Android app store operators. Lewis continued:

We still offer Mobile Broadband Connect, and the fee applies to customers using unlimited data plans. If a usage-based customer wants to subscribe, or continue to subscribe, to Mobile Broadband Connect, they can do so. They get both a high-quality robust tethering app and additional data allowances. On the other hand, a usage-based customer that wishes to tether other devices but does not wish to subscribe to Mobile Broadband Connect can cancel the service, purchase or obtain a third-party tethering application, and simply pay for the additional data usage.

If that seems like it's not really answering my questions, which are the same ones many Verizon customers are also asking, I'd agree with you, Verizon isn't being explicit about its new data tethering plans.

As for AT&T, they're not bound by the FCC agreement. As an AT&T press representative said, "this issue relates to the open access requirements that were attached to the C-block spectrum Verizon purchased. We do not have C-block spectrum." (I presume they will continue to charge for tethering for the time being.)

What all this means is that if you have an unlimited Verizon plan you're still going to be stuck with a tethering fee. If you have an older restricted data plan, though, you will be able to freely share your bandwidth with third-party applications. You'll just need to keep in mind that you'll pay for the extra bits if you go over your monthly bandwidth limits.

And, finally, what Verizon would really like from all of this is for you to switch over to one of its Share Everything plans.

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