Bandwidth crunch has consumer implications

Carriers and the FCC work to free up and buy up more spectrum to meet growing data demands. In the meantime, most consumers are losing their unlimited data plans and getting stuck with expensive shared plans.

Data usage on a smartphone.
Data usage on a smartphone. James Martin/CNET

Wireless operators say they face a crisis if they can't get additional wireless spectrum to fuel the growth of mobile data usage. What does it mean for the average cell phone customer? As some wireless operators scramble to get their hands on additional network capacity, they've rejiggered their data plans to put some heavy data users on a mobile data diet. A couple of years ago the two biggest players -- AT&T and Verizon Wireless -- eliminated all their all-you-can-eat plans for new customers. And this year, Verizon made it harder for existing Verizon customers to keep these plans.

But the big change in data plans in 2012 was the introduction of the shared data plans at AT&T and Verizon. Now mobile subscribers can share data across multiple devices, like laptops, tablets, and smartphones. And multiple people on the same plan can use the same bucket of data. But some consumers complain that the cost of these new plans is too high.

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