TracFone brands Straight Talk and NET10 changed their Web pages and Terms of Service today to add the phrase:
"Unlimited Plans include 2.5 GB of high speed data per 30 day cycle. After 2.5 GB, your data speed will be reduced for the remainder of the 30 day cycle. High speed data is restored once a new 30 day service plan is added."
Previously these plans were advertised as including "Unlimited" data although many users found that the plans were anything but, with data being shut off or severely throttled after using as little as 1 GB in a month or 100 MB in a day.
The 2.5 GB soft cap is similar to with what many other prepaid providers are doing. Provided the TracFone companies enforce it as advertised, it's a win for customers who can using a data monitoring app can keep track of how much data they are using to help stay within the limits.
I've found the free 3G Watchdog Android app to be accurate to within about 5% compared to my operator's (T-Mobile MVNO PTel) online usage tracker. When I was in Mexico on vacation and using a Telcel Mexico SIM, 3G Watchdog was equally accurate compared with Telcel's online usage records. Unfortunately, Straight Talk and NET10 don't provide online data usage tracking. Their support representatives claim they can't tell see how much you have used either. No on-device tracker can be completely accurate compared with what the network says you have used, so I wouldn't push 2.5 GB limit too closely.
While I have high hopes that NET10 and Straight Talk's new data policy will be transparent and user friendly parts of both operator's terns of service worry me. "Continuous" video streaming is still banned, whatever that means. It seems to me that if a user pays for 2.5 GB of data per month they should be able to use it in any legal way they want. But the terms seem to allow Straight Talk to cut off your data for watching YouTube, even if you haven't used up your 2.5 GB.
There's also an ambiguous line in the T&C, which appears to be saying that if you pay for a year of service in advance and exceed 2.5 GB in any month Straight Talk can throttle you for the rest of the year! "If the 2.5 GB threshold is reached, data speed will be reduced to 2G for the remainder of that plan cycle. High speed data is restored once a new 30 day service plan begins at the end of your last 30 day plan cycle. Straight Talk currently offers Unlimited Minutes, Texts and Data Plans with 30, 90, 180 and 365 days of service. "
Update 9/30/2013: A Tracfone representative has assured me that if a user's data speeds are throttled, full data speeds will be restored at the start of the next 30 day plan month even if a 90, 180 or 365 day plan is in effect.