AT&T announced today it is easing up on its “unlimited” data plan restrictions, bowing to public pressure.

Previously, AT&T would slow down your data service if you were among the top 5 percent heaviest data users in your area for each month. Now, to get a slow down, you’ve got to hit the data cap of 3 gigabytes during your billing cycle. But there’s good news for AT&T’s 4G LTE customers; you’ve got 5GB to play with before your data speed slows down. The company explains the new plan on its website. AT&T put this statement on their site:

In response to soaring mobile broadband usage and the limited availability of wireless spectrum, we implemented a network management program back in 2011 to help ensure the best possible mobile broadband experience for all of our customers.

AT&T users had complained that their download speeds were throttled, meaning slowed down, after hitting just 2 gigabytes — a low data-threshold for any mobile user. AT&T makes it clear that you won’t be charged for going over, your speed will just drop. The reduced speeds after your hit the data cap are reportedly too slow to stream Pandora or Netflix on your phone. You’ll get a handy text message that lets you know you’ve gone over your limit.

In contrast, Sprint offers “truly unlimited data” with no throttling. Verizon doesn’t offer unlimited plans any longer and instead charges $30 for 2GB, $50 for 5Gb or $80 for 10GB of mobile data. Customers who go over their caps are charged $10 per gigabyte. T-Mobile offers a few unlimited plans, with mobile Hotspot capabilities and without. Hotspot plans offer 10Gb, which can be shared with other Wi-Fi devices by tethering. The regular data plan caps out at 2GB. T-Mobile follows AT&T strategy by not charging overage fees, but will throttle your speed if you exceed your limits.

If you are really paranoid about going over your data limits, apps that monitor your data usage and compress your data, like Onavo, can help. For a frame of reference, I am a T-Mobile customer who has an older 5GB data plan. I use my phone daily to check e-mail, stream music, check Twitter, and browse the web, and I rarely use more than 3GB per month.

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