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Verizon is now selling unlimited data in 30-minute increments

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Verizon To Buy Alltel Wireless, Creating Largest Cellular Company In U.S. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Verizon has a new unlimited mobile data offering with some significant strings attached. Announced yesterday, PopData is essentially a pay-as-you-go unlimited option that costs $2 for every 30 minutes or $3 for every 60 minutes. Think of it like a microtransaction or in-app purchase in a mobile game, where you can’t enjoy the full benefits of a product you ostensibly already own or pay for without ponying up a few extra bucks.

Of course, PopData isn’t quite as insidious as it sounds upfront. There does appear to be some legitimate reasons to want unfettered data access for a short amount of time. For instance, perhaps you know you’ll be downloading large files to your phone like numerous Spotify playlists, or maybe you want to enjoy an uninterrupted stream of a sports game or Netflix movie without having to worry about your data cap. But there’s no telling really whether this is a good or bad deal, as it complicates how we think of the value of data by blending a monthly bucket metaphor with that of a time-based subscription system.

PopData is like an in-app purchase for a mobile game

This wouldn’t be such a big deal if customers could simply pay for unlimited data every month. Yet Verizon — unlike AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint — does not offer customers a standard unlimited plan, and the company has made an effort to kick users off their grandfathered plans in the past. Most recently, Verizon says those customers who still have unlimited plans and use over 100GB will lose access to the service permanently or be forced to switch to a plan costing $450 per month. It’s supposed to be a form of punishment for people who may be using LTE service for more than just their smartphone.

All of this is to say that Verizon and its competitors have long been abusing the marketing positives of offering "unlimited" plans by attaching all sorts of stipulations to the terms of the deal. T-Mobile’s new unlimited plan forces customers to pay $3 a day for the right to stream high-quality video, while Sprint makes you pay $25 extra per month to not have your video, music, and gaming streams capped. AT&T, on the other hand, will only let you pay for unlimited data if you also subscribe to its DirecTV service.

So Verizon is not alone when it comes to charging customers to use the most desirable feature of their smartphones without fear of financial penalty.