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AT&T pulls plug on free “Watch TV” for phone customers

If “your thing” is watching free streaming TV on AT&T’s dime, here’s some bad news for you.

The telecom giant on Wednesday announced it was tweaking its wireless phone plans, an overhaul that has become something of an annual tradition in the cellphone industry.

The company’s base plan, called “Unlimited Starter,” offers unlimited data for $65 a month per line or $35 per month for four lines of service. That plan offers unlimited calls, texting and data, but with the caveat that AT&T can slow data speeds at any time if it feels its network is getting too congested. And streaming video is limited to standard definition only when a phone isn’t on WiFi.

The next step up is “Unlimited Extra,” which costs $75 a month per line or $40 for four lines of service. That plan offers the same service as Unlimited Starter, except AT&T promises it won’t slow down data speeds until all lines on a plan collectively use 50 GB of data. It also offers a pool of 15 GB of LTE data per line for “mobile hotspot,” or using a phone to connect to another device like a tablet.

Rounding out the three is AT&T’s most expensive plan — and the only one that continues to offer a video perk: “Unlimited Elite,” which costs $85 a month per line or $50 per month for four lines of service. It doubles the high speed data guarantee of 100 GB and doubles the hotspot pool to 30 GB of data.

Unlike the previous plans offers by AT&T, none of the new offerings allow customers to choose a premium video or streaming music service like Spotify Premium, Starz, Cinemax or Showtime, though the Unlimited Elite plan still gives customers access to HBO for free. And none of the plans offer AT&T’s $15 a month Watch AT&T streaming TV service, a slim cable replacement that offers channels owned by AT&T like CNN, Cartoon Network and Audience mixed with lifestyle channels like TLC and Discovery.

Customers grandfathered in under older plans will continue to receive Watch AT&T for free. But the company’s decision to move away from the service for new customers or those who switch to the newer plans coupled with a lack of marketing of the service puts Watch AT&T’s future on shaky ground — the company is betting big on a competing streaming service, HBO Max, which is set to launch next year for $15 a month — the same price as Watch AT&T.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).