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Will AT&T introduce usage-based pricing?

Ralph de la Vega, AT&T head of consumer services, has hinted at usage-based pricing strategies in response to increased consumer data consumption, according to stories on the Huffington Post and Reuters newsfeed. De la Vega spoke at a recent USB investor conference, saying that AT&T was working on improving service to the strained New York and San Francisco services. AT&T may soon introduce pricing tiers that would penalize high-bandwidth users.

Although none of these write-ups mentioned the iPhone, it has facilitated greater and greater network demands with its easy-to-use App Store software and fully-rendered Internet access. That access, using Mobile Safari's browser in particular, was a big selling point in early Apple iPhone commercials.

Although App Store has historically limited high-bandwidth applications to Wi-Fi-only usage, AT&T has recently given the go-ahead to allow Voice-over-IP apps like Skype to use their 3G network. A tiered pricing system for greater usage might help offset increased demand but would need to be backed by an enhanced network infrastructure, which AT&T appears to be building.

The 2-year contracts for the new 3GS iPhones introduced this summer will begin to expire in the 2nd quarter of 2011.

TUAW has contacted AT&T's PR department to request a statement about possible pricing tiers and usage choking but did not hear back by the time this post went live.

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