AT&T, DirecTV Customers Get New Shot at Rare Unlimited Data Plan

AT&T has been pushing members away from all-you-can-eat data options for their phones, but the company is making unlimited data easy for one category of customer

AT&T, the second-biggest wireless carrier by customers in the U.S., revived a data plan that lets mobile customers eat up as much data as they like, with one big if: They must subscribe to one of its pay-TV plans.

For years, AT&T has been pushing consumers away from unlimited data options, which have become costly for telecom companies as video streaming and other traffic-heavy entertainment activities have become standard behavior on smartphones. AT&T’s about-face to offer the option to pay-TV customers only underscores its hunger to turn its $48.5 billion acquisition of DirecTV into a competitive advantage.

AT&T has been distancing itself from unlimited data for years. After AT&T killed unlimited plans five years ago, only people who nabbed those plans and continued to hold them without switching remained. And in November, AT&T said it would be raising the price of those unlimited-data plans — by $5, to $35 a month — for the first time in seven years, starting in February.

But Monday, AT&T said that any customer with wireless service and DirectTV or AT&T’s own U-verse TV can qualify for a new AT&T unlimited plan — which includes unlimited data, talk and text for $100 a month for one line — starting Tuesday. Additional lines are $40 a month, and the fourth line will have no additional cost. That means a family of four could connect four smartphones with unlimited data for $180 per month.

The company said the AT&T Unlimited Plan is the first of more integrated video and mobility offers that it plans to announce in 2016, along with a “wide range of new video entertainment options.”

In a release, Ralph de la Vega, the company’s chief of mobile and business solutions, took at shot at rival T-Mobile. De la Vega said customers with the unlimited plan won’t need to “compromise” video quality to stream all they want. T-Mobile made headlines in November when it launched a feature called “Binge On,” which let customers stream as much video as they liked from several providers like Netflix, as long as a video was at DVD-level quality rather than a data-heavy higher resolution.