Verizon manipulated the way it handled its flagship 4G phone so that anyone who wanted to use the mobile hotspot feature would be suckered into the new data structure. Customers who purchased a Thunderbolt earlier this year thought they were getting a pretty good deal because no matter what plan they chose, they got to use the device as a virtual Wi-Fi hotspot for free. The carrier called it a "promotional," limited-time deal.
Verizon said the offer would expire on May 15, after which time users would have to sign up for the feature as an additional line item on their bill, but didn't say how much it would cost.
For 3G phone owners, that mobile hotspot feature added about $20-$30 to their monthly charge, allowing them to still connect their phone to the Internet as much as they wanted, and tether that connection to a PC, tablet, game console, etc, for up to 5 GB per month.
But a funny thing happened with the Thunderbolt. The free mobile hotspot access kept going and going. Even those who wanted to add "Mobile Hotspot" to their bill couldn't, because it was free... until finally, this week, when the "promotional" deal came to an end.
So, simple enough, you might say - just go to Verizon's website and add the mobile hotspot feature to your Thunderbolt plan. Pay the extra $20-$30 per month.
Oh, but it is not that easy, because Verizon no longer lists "mobile hotspot" as a separate feature, and instead incorporates it into your actual data plan. So instead of having two items (e.g., "Unlimited Data" and "Mobile Hotspot Access"), it's all wrapped up into the data plan (e.g., "7 GB Data w/ Mobile Hotspot").
See, as you may know, Verizon cut off unlimited data for smartphones earlier this month, and for the same $30 that used to get you as much online access as you wanted, you'll now only get 2 GB per month. Of course, those who already had an unlimited data plan get to have that plan grandfathered in. The only way to lose your $30 unlimited data is to change your plan on your own volition.
And no one would actually choose to pay more, right? That is, unless Verizon gamed the system, and that's exactly what it did with the Thunderbolt. An Unlimited Data plan only gives users access to the Internet from the phone itself, so users who want mobile hotspot are now forced to switch to a new data plan and "voluntarily" surrender their unlimited data service.
People with 3G phones and an "unlimited data + mobile hotspot" plan are all set. Their plan is locked in and is unaffected by the change. But Verizon kept giving Thunderbolt owners "free" mobile hotspot access, making it actually impossible to lock into the same kind of plan as their 3G counterparts. Only after the more expensive rates have now kicked in are Thunderbolt owners allowed to sign up for a mobile hotspot plan. And to do that, you are forced to tell Verizon, "I no longer want the unlimited data plan I signed up for. I choose to pay more and receive less service than I was previously getting."
So to put all of this into a practical example, if you were previously using 5 GB of data on your Thunderbolt and using your Thunderbolt's connection with your laptop on-the-go at a rate of 5 GB per month, you were paying $30/month until now. For the exact same connection, you'll now have to pay $100/month. The fact that you bought your Thunderbolt and signed your contract before the new plans went into effect means absolutely nothing.
So in the words of Cee Lo Green, Verizon just gave a big "Forget You" to anyone who purchased a Thunderbolt and thought they were locked into an unlimited data plan. Pretty shady, if you ask us.