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Yes, AT&T customers, ditch your old unlimited data plan

Ask Maggie: CNET's Marguerite Reardon offers advice to an AT&T subscriber considering replacing his long-held unlimited data plan with a new one.

Unlimited data is back, and customers who held onto their old grandfathered unlimited plans finally have more choices.

It couldn't be a better time to be in the market for an unlimited data plan for your mobile phone. Thanks to T-Mobile, which has been siphoning off customers from AT&T and Verizon, the big carriers have finally succumbed to the pressure.

AT&T had been offering an unlimited data plan to customers signing up with DirecTV. But after Verizon launched its unlimited plan and T-Mobile countered by adding perks to its own unlimited options, AT&T came back with an even more compelling offer.

Earlier this week it unveiled two new unlimited data plans. The first is a budget-friendly, stripped-down plan with limited speeds and standard-definition video, while its higher-end plan offers full high-definition video streaming and up to 10GB of Wi-Fi hotspot data.

The constant back and forth between the carriers is good news for consumers who get to enjoy better prices and more options. In this edition of Ask Maggie, I help a longtime AT&T subscriber decide whether to ditch his old unlimited data plan for the new plan.

Dear Maggie,

I'm currently grandfathered into an unlimited data plan with AT&T. My phone bill right now without the lease payments for our phones is $165 a month for two lines. With our current plan, we get 700 minutes of talk time between the two of us, unlimited text messaging, one line has 3GB of data and the other line gets unlimited data. Should I ditch my grandfathered data plan for one of AT&T's new unlimited plans? Is there any reason to hang onto this old plan?

Thanks,

An AT&T-lifer

Dear AT&T-lifer,

The short answer is yes, you should definitely switch. AT&T's new pricing makes a compelling case for ditching your old plan. But you may want to shop around.

at-t-offices-photo-05-hero.jpg

AT&T is just one of the major carriers offering unlimited data plan specials.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Even the premium unlimited offer, called Unlimited Plus, which is priced at $145 a month for two lines, will save you $20 a month. And you will get a lot more for your money. Not only will you get unlimited talk time, but you'll also be able to use your phones as mobile hotspots and get up to 10GB of data each month at 4G LTE speeds. That option isn't available under your current unlimited data plan.

There are other perks, too. If you subscribe to the Unlimited Plus plan, AT&T will take $25 off the price of a subscription to its DirecTV, U-Verse TV or DirecTV Now service each month. AT&T says that this is a limited-time promotion and that it will start to apply the $25 credit after two to three billing periods.

A couple of things to keep in mind. This pricing requires you to sign up for automatic bill paying. Video is set by default to stream at lower quality (480p resolution). But with the Unlimited Plus plan, you can manually turn that feature off to get high-definition streams. And like all the other major wireless carriers, AT&T might slow your data connection if you use more than 22GB of data in a month.

If you're looking to save even more money and you don't mind surfing the net at slower speeds, you could consider the Unlimited Choice plan, which costs $115 for two lines. But keep in mind there are big caveats to this plan. Video streaming is only done at a lower-quality resolution. There's no hotspot feature. And all internet speeds are limited to 3 Mbps. And if you use more than 22GB of data in a given month, AT&T will slow you down even more.

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The bottom line:

The good news for you is that the unlimited-data-plan-wars mean you don't have to be held hostage to AT&T's old unlimited data offer. Now you have the freedom to try another carrier without the fear of losing that unlimited data if it doesn't work out. And truth be told, you'll actually get a better deal from any of the other three major wireless carriers if you switch.

With Sprint you can get two lines of unlimited data for $90 a month. T-Mobile will give you two lines of unlimited data for $100 a month. And Verizon charges $140 a month for two lines.

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.


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