In November, 2011, I wrote about the cellular options for travelers to the US who wanted voice and data service. At that time, AT&T had a pay-as-you-go plan (Go Phone) that was just $2 per day, and you were able to purchase data packages of 10MB ($5), 50MB ($15), and 500MB ($25).
The data would expire within 30 days of buying the package unless another data package was purchased prior to the expiry date. Signing up for automatic renewal would allow for "roll over" data. Although only in the US a few days at a time, I am there regularly so I decided to purchase 500MB, then sign up for a $5 per month 10MB automatic renewal. I use the data for web and email, so I would normally only use about 30MB to 70MB per trip. At the end of my last trip to the US in April, I had roughly 350MB remaining on my account.
I returned to the US on the May long weekend to discover that all of my data was gone. It seems that AT&T no longer offers data packages to those on the $2 per day plan, so my data was not automatically renewed. AT&T simply canceled the plan, took my data, and ran.
So what does AT&T offer now? You must be on a monthly plan just to be able to purchase a data package, and smartphone users must purchase data packages (they aren't eligible for the data included in monthly plans). The cheapest monthly plan they offer is $25. Imagine staying at a hotel for a few nights, asking about Internet access, and being told that you can only access the Internet if you rent a room for a month! Yes, it is that ridiculous!
I estimate that I used to pay roughly $12 to $15 per month based on the number of days I would be in the US, including my $5 automatic renewal for the data, plus the odd extra charges incurred calling back to Canada. Now AT&T is expecting me to pay at least $30 per month for a plan with some smartphone data. Not only that, but that plan actually includes less than the $2 per day plan as far as calling and texting goes!
Obviously I must renew my search for the ideal provider for staying connected in the US. It would seem that a new roaming agreement between AT&T and T-Mobile might actually help. T-Mobile has per day plans that include data, with national coverage and no roaming charges. Unfortunately, T-Mobile's site is light on the "fine print", so I'll have to figure out if the data works with smartphones, and if the texting includes messages to Canada (or at least how much each message to Canada will cost).
If things do indeed work out with T-Mobile, AT&T's cash grab is going to backfire on them. I'm just thankful that the proposed buyout fell through last year.