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When the phone companies deregulated, it opened up the door for competitive pricing among long-distance carriers. As more people relied on cell phones as their primary means of communication, more companies were able to offer lower rates. This has had its upsides for consumers: Cell phone rates have declined substantially and are lower than many of the costs of basic communication services.

The downside is that while consumers get lower rates, they lose some of the benefits of deregulation, such as the possibility of unlimited calling.

But now, with the rise of smartphones, the “unlimited” plan is about to disappear. And with that, a lot of Americans’ love affair with the cell phone service that was once available only to the few will be put to an end.

Consider these points:

All major long-distance carriers offer unlimited data roaming.

Over time, mobile data plans became cheaper and cheaper, and wireless prices fell.

In 2013, the Obama administration launched a campaign to encourage smartphone ownership.

The federal government offers subsidized phones to consumers, and it encouraged companies such as AT&T and T-Mobile to offer similar plans. But when the government subsidizes mobile service, the consumer has an incentive to purchase a high-value smartphone, making it relatively easy for these companies to sell unlimited data plans. AT&T has come under fire in the past, but its customers are generally happy.

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In a study last year, the Public Interest Research Group found that 74 percent of Americans say they would be willing to switch carriers to get unlimited data and voice service, while 90 percent of those polled said they were willing to pay more for the benefit.

But unlimited data plans have gotten a lot less expensive since the government’s plan was announced, and AT&T is only selling a limited amount of them at the moment. AT&T’s data plans cost $20 per month, but are available for just $5.99 per month for individuals and $10 per month for small businesses. There is no limit to how much customers can pay for the unlimited data plan. The program, which is available in a select number of other cities around the country, will go live on December 12, with the full rollout following in January.

Verizon has been leading the charge in giving customers unlimited data plans for years. They launched the program in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. For the other cities, Verizon offered a tiered plan with data limited to 2G speeds.

Though Verizon isn’t saying how much users will be paying for the unlimited data plans, and the price range is still being decided, we know that users will be able to download over 100GB per month. This is around the same amount of data that many Verizon Wireless customers use in a month, which could mean that users will get much more than 100GB per month.

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