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Could smartphone data cap plans hurt Internet radio?

The National Association of Broadcasters is sending around an interesting think piece about Internet/mobile radio. The report was published by the Station Resource Group, a consortium of public media services. It’s titled “The Mobile Internet: A Replacement for Radio?” and is pretty circumspect about the question—pondering the various differences between broadcast and Internet audio streams.

This paragraph caught my eye.

A potentially critical new market variable has entered the picture, with the recent AT&T Wireless announcement that new customers will no longer be offered unlimited flat-rate data service. Although early analysis of the specifics of the new AT&T rate structure shows that most Internet radio users would still fall within the flat-rate zone, the move by AT&T crosses a virtual Rubicon. It is now conceivable that the current rate structure is simply the first step in a gradual throttling down of flat-rate service thresholds, and that if one provider has done so, others may follow. This movement could affect the uptake of wireless Internet radio by future consumers.

AT&T announced its two new data capped plans for the iPhone and other smartphones in June. DataPlus offers 200 megabytes of data for $15 a month. DataPro provides two  gigabytes for $25 a month.

Why might other carriers follow suit?

“Witness the still increasing ‘foreign’ ATM charges that nearly all banks now levy after years of offering such service for free,” the survey notes. “During those years, strong consumer usage patterns were established, and once such behavior was created, the institution of small but incrementally growing fees for continued usage was grudgingly but broadly accepted by consumers.”

It’s an interesting question. AT&T’s DataPro says the plan offers consumers the capacity to watch 200 minutes of streaming video a month, the carrier claims. Streaming audio isn’t mentioned, but obviously that would take up less bandwidth.

Any comments on this out there in Radio Survivor-land? Do data caps make you nervous about tuning into Pandora on your iPhone?

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