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AT&T boosts prices for data plans, and throws in more data to boot

The pitch: You'll get more data for your money, and prices drop if you sign up for a larger plan. Plus, AT&T says it's dropping overage fees.

Sara Tew/CNET

It's AT&T's turn to shake up its wireless plans.

The nation's second-largest carrier on Wednesday introduced new wireless plans that offer more data -- but at a higher starting price. The changes echo the shift Verizon's making with its new plans, introduced last month. AT&T says it's offering you a better deal on the price per megabyte of data.

The cheapest available plan is now $10 more at $30 a month, but includes 1 GB of data (the previous low-end plan included only 300 MB). A 3 GB plan costs $40 a month, 6 GB costs $60, 10 GB costs $80 and 16 GB costs $90. Heavy data users can rejoice; the 25 GB and 30 GB plans are actually cheaper.

Like Verizon, AT&T is doing away with overage fees for anyone who signs up for these new plans. But AT&T isn't charging a separate fee like Verizon's "Safety Mode" program, which costs some customers $5 a month.

AT&T's move is another jab in the cat-and-mouse game that is the wireless business. In a highly competitive environment where every carrier is vying for your business, big moves often elicit imitation or a response by rivals. T-Mobile has long pressured the big two carriers into ending overage charges, but it took Verizon making its move to spur AT&T into action. Meanwhile, both are offering plans with richer data packages.

"This just shows how competitive the market is with everyone reacting to another," said Recon Analytics analyst Roger Entner.


AT&T's new plans.


As per the usual for carriers, nothing is simple. In addition to the rate changes, AT&T streamlined its device access structure so everyone has to pay $20 a month to connect their phones. Previously, the access fee was $25 for customers who were on a 10 GB plan or lower, and $15 for 15GB and higher. Customers still on two-year agreements pay an access charge of $40 a month.


AT&T's old rate plans.


The changes mean that there will be some situations in which customers will end up paying less, particularly if they are willing to sign up for the larger plans. For example, a 25 GB plan for four now costs $190 ($110 for the 25 GB plus four phones at $20 apiece). It previously cost $235 a month. A 30 GB plan for four costs $215 now, vs. $285 under the old structure.

The plans will be available on August 21. Both new and existing customers can sign up for them.