March 15, 2010 Last Updated 1:28 pm

Apple spells out its 3G data plans for the iPad; monthly costs could be a drag on publisher’s subscription plans

On Friday Apple began taking pre-orders for its Wi-Fi only (that is, without 3G) iPad models. Although sales started quickly, they also just as quickly slowed.

Today Apple spelled out what its 3G plans will look like.  Working still with AT&T, Apple unveiled two data plans for its 3G models: the unlimited data plan will cost $29.99, while a 250mb plan will be $14.99 per month.

Although Apple is touting the plans as part of a “breakthrough deal with AT&T”, the reality is that for many the monthly data charges will be a burden. Worse, the monthly charges will remind users that they are already paying each month for the device and will be reluctant to add additional charges, like publication subscriptions, to their budgets.

The paywall argument is never ending, so it is not my intention to go over that ground again. But for those who believe that consumers will embrace, or at least not resist, monthly fees to consume media, remember that iPad users that sign up for data plans are already getting dinged and will be reluctant to make matters worse.

Are you willing to pay $30 a month or more to be
able to read the Times at your local Starbucks?

For iPhone users the AT&T data plans are a rip-off. AT&T has been promising tethering capability for the iPhone for a while and has not delivered. And since tethering itself is not free, the parade of fees is getting ridiculous. I see two possible ways out of this: one, users simply opt for the WiFi-only model and avoid the whole 3G debacle; two, pressure from competitors may change the environment as companies choose to include free 3G within the sales price of their own tablets at introduction.

2010 is the year these kinds of things get worked out as publishers experiment with paywalls, Apple and AT&T experiment with data plans, and consumers decide when all this nickel and dime-ing becomes just too much to deal with.

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