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Wednesday, June 02, 2010, 05:05 am PT (08:05 am ET)

AT&T caps new iPhone, iPad data plans at 2GB, announces tethering

AT&T's transition away from unlimited data plans begins June 7, when iPhone data (with tethering) and iPad 3G plans will be capped at 2GB per month, but with slightly lower pricing.

AT&T announced this week that a new data plan for iPhone owners, dubbed "DataPro," will be offered starting June 7, providing 2GB of data for $25 per month. Tethering costs an additional $20 per month, and lets customers use their handset to share Internet connectivity with another device, such as a laptop. Tethering will be available this summer when iPhone OS 4 is released.

AT&T will also offer a less expensive data plan, called "DataPlus," which offers 200MB for $15 per month. The carrier noted in its press release that 65 percent of its smartphone customers use less than 200MB per month, while 98 percent use less than 2GB per month.

Customers who near their cap for the month will be sent a text message notifying them when they reach a certain usage level. For customers who exceed the cap, an extra 1GB in the DataPro plan costs $10, and an extra 200MB in the DataPlus plan runs $15.

Current AT&T customers are not required to switch to the new plans and sacrifice their unlimited data, but can do so without a contract extension.

AT&T also announced that it would discontinue the existing $29.99-per-month unlimited 3G data plans for the iPad for new customers. It will be replaced by a no-contract plan that runs $25 a month for 2GB of data. Customers who have the existing unlimited plan are not required to change.

Plans for voice and texting through AT&T will remain unchanged after June 7.

"AT&T helps mobilize everything on the Internet — your favorite web sites, TV shows, music, games and social networks. Virtually everything previously done while sitting at a computer can now be done on the go," said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO, AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. "To give more people the opportunity to experience these benefits, we’re breaking free from the traditional 'one-size-fits-all' pricing model and making the mobile Internet more affordable to a greater number of people."

AT&T has long hinted that changes to its unlimited data plans were coming, as the company has faced network issues and bandwidth problems. The carrier has sought ways to encourage the heaviest bandwidth consumers to reduce or modify their usage of the AT&T network.

Last December, one AT&T executive said he believed it was inevitable that users who utilize more bandwidth than their share will have to pay more than the rest. At the time, the company said that 40 percent of the network capacity for AT&T is used by just 3 percent of smartphone users. Other reports have alleged that the average iPhone user consumes 10 times the bandwidth of a typical smartphone user.

On Tuesday, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said that he felt AT&T was doing "pretty good" in improving its network, though he admitted they "could do better." Jobs revealed that Apple and AT&T executives meet once a quarter to discuss issues. He also noted that AT&T deals with "way more data traffic than anyone else."