*(Via connectedplanetonline.com) AT&T has been hinting at introducing tiered or metered smartphone data pricing, and Tuesday the company cemented its plans, announcing new buckets-of-megabyte plans that replace its one-size-fits-all unlimited data offerings.

In its press releases, AT&T listed three category of plans that could be used for smartphone data and tethering, taking particular care to give examples of how much content could be downloaded or uploaded under each cap:

• DataPlus. Provides 200 megabytes of data — for example, enough to send/receive 1000 e-mails (no attachments), plus send/receive 150 e-mails with attachments, plus view 400 Web pages, plus post 50 photos on social media sites, plus watch 20 minutes of streaming video — for just $15 per month. This plan, which can save customers up to 50% off their wireless data charges, is designed for people who primarily like to surf the Web, send e-mail and use social networking apps. If customers exceed 200 MB in a monthly billing cycle, they will receive an additional 200 MB of data usage for $15 for use in the cycle. Currently, 65% of AT&T smartphone customers use less than 200 MB of data per month on average.

• DataPro. Provides 2 gigabytes of data — for example, enough to send/receive 10,000 e-mails (no attachments), plus send/receive 1500 e-mails with attachments, plus view 4,000 Web pages, plus post 500 photos to social media sites, plus watch 200 minutes of streaming video — for $25 per month. Should a customer exceed 2 GB during a billing cycle, they will receive an additional 1 GB of data for $10 for use in the cycle. Currently, 98% of AT&T smartphone customers use less than 2 GB of data a month on average.

• Tethering. Smartphone customers — including iPhone customers — who choose the DataPro plan have the option to add tethering for an additional $20 per month. Tethering lets customers use their smartphones as a modem to provide a broadband connection for laptop computers, netbooks or other computing devices. Tethering for iPhones will be available when Apple releases iPhone OS 4 this summer.

The announcement immediately set off waves of commentary across the Web, much of it lamenting the loss of unlimited data use on the iPhone and iPad. Media watchdog The Free Press accused AT&T of gouging its customers, saying the operator should have invested in a more robust 3G footprint rather than choosing to “manage scarcity and ration its network”. It pointed out the huge discrepancy between the amount of data included in the two tiers — a 2 GB customer gets 10 times the data for less than half the cost. “This pricing system is clearly divorced from the actual underlying cost of service,” said Free Press policy counsel M. Chris Riley in a statement.

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