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AT&T Wireless has surprising new terms of service

AT&T silently changed its terms of service to prohibit people from streaming third-party content over its 3G wireless network.

This Slingbox app for iPhone isn't out yet, but you are already no longer allowed to fully enjoy it on the go. Dong Ngo/CNET

For a moment, I thought AT&T Wireless' new Netbook offerings were good deals. As it turns out, not so much.

According to, the company silently revised its terms of service on Monday, just a few days before it announced the new program to offer discounted Netbooks to its 3G broadband service customers in Atlanta and Philadelphia.

In the "Prohibited and Permissible Uses" section, the new terms of service explicitly state:

Downloading movies using P2P file-sharing services, customer-initiated redirection of television or other video or audio signals via any technology from a fixed location to a mobile device, Web broadcasting, and/or for the operation of servers, telemetry devices and/or Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition devices is prohibited.

This means you are potentially no longer allowed to stream content from third-party Web sites, such as You Tube, and may not even freely use video-streaming applications, such as Slingbox (both the existing Windows Mobile and upcoming iPhone versions) anymore. In terms of the bigger picture, AT&T is now treating its 3G wireless data network differently from its wired high-speed DSL network, which still allows you to do whatever you want. This is probably because the company does have to pay for the wireless spectrum, in addition to other investments.

While the above change affects only those who are big fans of mobile video-streaming, this next part of the revised terms of service affects all DataConnect customers:

On the 5GB DataConnect Plan, once you exceed your 5GB allowance you will be automatically charged $0.00048 per Kb for any data used. On the 200MB Data Connect Plan, once you exceed your 200MB allowance, you will be automatically charged $10 for an additional 100MB. Unused data from either your initial allowance or any overage allowance (e.g., the 100MB) will not be carried over to the next billing period; all data allowances must be used in the billing period in which the allowance is provided.

Basically, AT&T Wireless wants to spell out that, unlike for voice-plan minutes, it won't carry your unused data to the next month.

Personally, I have the unlimited data plan on my iPhone 3G, but I've almost never streamed anything via the 3G connection, mainly because it is just not possible most of the time in San Francisco. Nonetheless, I don't think 200MB a month or even 5GB a month are enough for a heavy streamer, considering a full-length high-quality movie uses up to 1GB of data.

It's important to note, however, that the changes only apply to cellular data plans. It seems you can still stream as much as you want via a Wi-Fi connection, provided your phone has this feature. And if it doesn't, it's about time you got yourself a phone that does.