Verizon: You can keep unlimited — if you buy your own phone

Verizon Wireless(s vz)(s vod) apparently isn’t done talking about its controversial plan to phase out “grandfathered” unlimited data plans for smartphone users. It issued a statement to The New York Times Thursday, detailing exactly how the policy would be implemented. What it boils down to is this: You can keep unlimited, but don’t expect Verizon to subsidize your device.
Here’s the full statement as published in the Gray Lady’s Bits blog:

  • Customers will not be automatically moved to new shared data plans. If a 3G or 4G smartphone customer is on an unlimited plan now and they do not want to change their plan, they will not have to do so.
  • When we introduce our new shared data plans, Unlimited Data will no longer be available to customers when purchasing handsets at discounted pricing.
  • Customers who purchase phones at full retail price and are on an unlimited smartphone data plan will be able to keep that plan.
  • The same pricing and policies will be applied to all 3G and 4GLTE smartphones.

What that means is that you can probably cling to your unlimited plan from now until the end of time, like some old codger that refuses to give up his party line. But Verizon isn’t going to make it easy on you. The people who like unlimited data tend to be the people who like high-end smartphones, and since Verizon will no longer cut them deals when they upgrade to newer and better devices, they’ll be on the hook for full sticker price. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the prices on a brand new unlocked iPhone(s AAPL) lately, but they ain’t cheap: $650 to $850 depending on the model.
The odd thing is, depending on how they’re priced, Verizon’s new shared plans might actually wind up saving a lot of current unlimited customers money. For instance, if you’re in a household with two smartphones both grandfathered to unlimited, you’re basically paying $60 a month for data. If Verizon keeps its same pricing structure in place you could get 2 GB to share for half the monthly cost, plus whatever per line charges Verizon chooses to charge.
The larger majority of U.S. smartphone users consume less than 1 GB of data a month. There are still plenty of people who use their unlimited data plans to the hilt – many of them GigaOM readers – and they’re going to hate this policy change in the very cores of their beings. But my bet is that a lot of people currently on unlimited plans might benefit from switching over to shared data. We’ll have to see the details of Verizon’s shared pricing, though, before we can say for sure.
Buffet image courtesy of Flickr user Wesley Fryer