Sprint's new unlimited data plan, announced a week ago, offers subscribers unlimited data for an attractive $60 monthly price. The limitation on that unlimited data? You can only stream movies at 480p quality, and there are speed caps on streaming music and games, too.
Customers who want their streaming media without restrictions have a new option, though. For $20 extra a month, they'll be able to stream videos at up to 1080p quality, music at 1.5 Mbps and games at 8 Mbps under the new Sprint Unlimited Freedom Premium Plan announced by the carrier today (August 26).
If paying a carrier extra each month to remove one of the limitations on an unlimited plan sounds familiar, that's because it takes a page out of T-Mobile's playbook. Last week, the Uncarrier announced a new unlimited T-Mobile One plan that will launch Sept. 6. Like Sprint's $60 plan, the $70 T-Mobile One plan features unlimited data but restricts subscribers to streaming 480p video. For $25 more a month, T-Mobile's subscribers can remove the video restriction.
While it's nice to have the option to get higher-resolution video — Sprint points out that the feature comes in handy if you like to stream things from your phone to an HDTV — some subscribers may wonder why they have to pay up for better media streaming on an unlimited plan.
The carriers would argue that this is a tradeoff you make for a lower monthly rate on unlimited data. Prior to T-Mobile One, the Uncarrier charged subscribers $95 a month for unlimited data plans, while Sprint's unlimited plan cost $80. (Coincidentally, those are the same rates you'd now pay for unlimited plans with the streaming restrictions removed.) And as T-Mobile likes to point out, watching video at 480p on a smartphone screen is probably a good enough experience for most people.
It's the same argument T-Mobile made when it introduced Binge On, a feature that let subscribers on tiered plans watch lower-resolution video from participating services without the streams eating into their monthly data allotment. But you could opt out of that service, with the only cost being the extra data you'd use.
So with T-Mobile — and now Sprint — telling customers to pay up if they want to stream higher-resolution video with the unlimited plans they're already paying for, you can imagine the carriers will take some flak from consumer advocacy groups. The Electronic Frontier Foundation already told the Daily Dot last week that "it seems like T-Mobile's new plan to charge its customers extra to not throttle video runs directly afoul of the principle of net neutrality." That's the notion that all content on the internet be treated equally. Expect that debate to heat up now that another carrier has joined the mix.
Sprint's offering customers who want higher-resolution video with their unlimited plans some encouragement. It will waive the $20 monthly charge through October 31 if you sign up for its Unlimited Freedom plan.