AT&T revives the unlimited data plan, with a catch

The wireless plan will cost $100 per line. Here's the thing, though: It works only if you also have a U-Verse TV or DirecTV subscription.

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Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
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AT&T is reviving the unlimited data plan, but only for its TV subscribers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The unlimited data plan is making a comeback at AT&T, but not as you remember it.

The Dallas telecom giant said Monday that its DirecTV and U-Verse subscribers can sign up for unlimited wireless data. A single line costs $100 a month, with $40 for each additional line. Enrollment starts Tuesday.

The move is an attempt by the nation's second-largest wireless carrier to get you on both its video service and its wireless service.

AT&T spent $49 billion to buy DirecTV last year in an effort to serve up bundles of wireless, home broadband, video and home phone services. It comes at a time when consumers are dropping their pay-TV service, or never signing up for it in the first place.

Glenn Lurie, chief executive of AT&T's mobility business, said the offer isn't meant to stave off the trend known as cord cutting. Instead, it rewards AT&T's best customers.

"We're doing everything we can to deliver customers what they want," he said in an interview.

The unlimited data plan is a surprise throwback to the past. AT&T stopped offering the option to new customers in 2010. That's when the company switched from unlimited data to tiered plans that require smartphone customers to pay for the data they use.

In February, AT&T plans to increase the price of its unlimited data option by $5 to $35 a month for customers who have stubbornly clung to the grandfathered plan.

Customers seeking unlimited data have had to turn to T-Mobile or Sprint. (Verizon also killed off its unlimited option.) But even those carriers have been raising their rates for unlimited data as the cost to deliver those services rises.

As with other unlimited plans, AT&T said it will slow the connection for any customer who is in a heavily data-congested area and who in a given month exceeds 22 gigabytes of data -- the equivalent of streaming 50 hours of video and 250 hours of music and spending another 220 hours on the Internet.

If you tend to binge-watch your favorite shows from home, this offer isn't necessarily for you. But folks who want to stream the videos on to your phone on the go may want to consider this.

AT&T's offer comes after T-Mobile has run into problems with its unlimited video service, BingeOn, which compresses video to a lower quality to save on bandwidth. T-Mobile CEO John Legere last week defended the service, saying customers have benefited from the move.

Lurie said AT&T has no plans to compress the video streams going to its customers. "It's nothing like that," he said.

AT&T said the starting price to sign up for a TV subscription plan is $20 a month. The rate rises to $50 a month after the first year.

The company said the unlimited data offer is temporary but hasn't set an end date.