Survey Indicates Carrier Pricing Moves at Odds with Consumer Interests

I've been arguing for some time that the US carriers' moves toward usage-based or tiered pricing is at odds with what consumers really want. Analyst firm Sanford Bernstein conducted a consumer survey that appears to validate that argument.

According to a write-up of the survey data at CNET consumers don't want usage-based pricing because it creates uncertainty for them:

About a third of the more than 800 people responding to the Sanford Bernstein survey said AT&T's move toward usage-based billing sparked negative sentiment toward the company. The study also suggests that if forced to take a tiered data plan in lieu of an unlimited plan, a large proportion of consumers would switch carriers even if it means buying a new phone and paying a premium on a different carrier for the unlimited plan. 

Consumers regard unlimited plans as a kind of insurance against "bill shock." The amount that they expect to pay each month is constant rather than unpredictable as with a tiered plan. Over a period of months consumers would likely cease to feel this uncertainty because usage patterns would be more transparent. It's the transition which is threatening. 

The terms being used by the carriers to discuss the data component of many plans is confusing to all but the most technically savvy users. Take the ZTE Peel, for example, which lends 3G connectivity to an iPod Touch. It gives you 1GB of data monthly. Is that a lot? What does that represent in real usage terms? The overwhelming majority of people don't know. 

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What consumers ultimately want is unlimited or very generous nearly unlimited plans. (Those exist with some of the pre-paid plans but you don't get great phone selection.) This becomes more true as more people give up landlines and become more dependent on smartphones as Internet devices.

It will be interesting to see if carriers can continue to assert their own interests and present them as good for consumers when consumers actual interests are clearly going in the opposite direction.