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SPECIAL REPORT: Unlimited data plans and choosing the right one

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MADISON- The Federal Communications Commission recently changed net neutrality rules. Part of that repeal allows cell phone companies to sell your data. One of the ways carriers can collect your data is from your unlimited data plan. However, with the amount of use most phones see, an unlimited plan is necessary.

Garret Griffin, a sophomore marketing major at Madison College considers himself an extremely heavy cell phone user, consuming up to 6 gig of data every month. He said his friends use even more than he does, but they all carry unlimited data plans.

"I use Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, Netflix on my phone," Griffin said.

These data heavy apps can gobble up your data plan.

"It's really important for me to have unlimited data because I don't want to have to worry about going over a certain threshold and then being slowed down," said Griffin.

He said there's value to him to pay for the unlimited plan and that's what wireless carriers are counting on.

Steve Noll, Marketing Instructor at Madison College said there's an incentive for carriers to push unlimited usage due to carrier’s ability to now collect and sell your data.

"On the backend, they're going to get a lot more consumer data that's probably a lot more valuable than the extra 5 or 10 dollars they can normally charge you for unlimited data," Noll said.

Ever-changing technology and user habits are demanding not only better quality service, but easy access to the countless forms of content cell users just can't seem to get enough of, regardless of any extra charges.

“The more consumers get used the idea of unlimited data the more that monthly bill is just going to become a part of their life,” said Noll. “They're not going to see it as a negative anymore, they're just going to see it as a regular expense to live a modern lifestyle."

Carriers see the long-term benefits of getting consumers accustomed to unlimited data.

“The more that they're untethered from their computer, televisions and homes, they're going to rely more and more on having a good carrier that can not only provide unlimited date, but high-speed data," said Noll.

Noll said the problem carriers are seeing right now is pretty much everyone who wants or can afford a cell phone already uses one. This is causing carriers to need to, as he said, 'steal' customers from competitors.

"If you have a program right now that's not unlimited data, they're going to do anything they can to show you why that's such a limitation and why that's such a negative in life to not have an unlimited plan,” said Noll. “Of course they'll be right there to say hey, switch over to us and we'll give you all these incentives to lock you in"

Noll said when choosing a plan these are the core things to consider:

-How many people will use the plan

-How will they use it

-What are the actual costs? What additional fees will add to the monthly price and what are you getting for the price?

-Make sure it's a truly an unlimited plan at a guaranteed speed.

Many plans advertise an unlimited plan, and they are, but that’s only at a certain usage point. When you reach a certain usage amount, the data is throttled or slowed down.

"If you're streaming movies or watching TV shows that could be something that you could easily hit a data cap half way through the month."

This will give you the dreaded buffering during your favorite show or music. Noll said it's important to understand what the numbers mean. Know how much data your usage takes up with streaming, social media apps and texting before deciding which plan works best for your habits.

"They can say we offer you 10 gigs of unlimited data and that might sound great, but if you have a big family and everyone is streaming Netflix all day long, you're going to burn through that pretty fast."

As of now you can’t opt out of your wireless carrier collecting your data. You can check with your carrier on what they do collect and review your plan to make sure it’s the one that works best for you.

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