Virgin Mobile's Prepaid Broadband: So Popular It's Raising Prices

Texting in a carUnlimited no longer means no limits at Virgin Mobile USA. The company announced today that due to the popularity of its Broadband2Go wireless Internet plan for its 3G MiFi hot spots and wireless modems, it's increasing the monthly fee and restricting speeds.

The $40 unlimited data plan was "overwhelmingly popular," according to the company's press release, and is being increased by $10. Citing an overloaded Internet, Virgin Mobile scaled back the plan to 5GB of data in February, but today cut that to 2.5GB a month. After reaching that amount, customers "may experience slower download speeds until the end of that monthly cycle," the company said.Virgin Mobile unleashed the $40 unlimited plan last summer, and it became so popular that its $150 personal modems, called MiFi, were hard to find in stores. In July 2009 it started selling a mobile USB stick for $150, which I tried out for free at the time, and the price has since dropped to $80.

The company announced the change today on its Facebook page, which caught users by surprise and angered some. One called the 25% price increase a bait and switch.

Customers who subscribed before today will still be able to keep 5GB, although if they move off the $40 plan they won't be able to return to it. New customers of the $50 plan will see slower speeds after using half of their 5GB. It was unclear from Virgin Mobile's press release if existing customers will also experience slower download speeds when they get to 2.5GB, and company spokeswoman Corinne Nosal would only say that existing customers will continue on the plan until further notice and will have a threshold of 5GB.

I have smartphone through Virgin Mobile, which through its Beyond Talk Plan offers unlimited text, email, data and Internet. I asked Nosal if those unlimited plans would soon become as limited as its broadband program. She assured me that the current changes only apply to its Broadband2Go service, but anything is possible.

"We do, however, always reserve the right to implement network management practices to ensure optimal performances for all subscribers as necessary," she wrote in an e-mail.

Popularity can be a good thing, but not when it leads to a price increase.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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