Virgin Mobile Launches "Custom" Family Plan that Does Not Treat All Apps Equally

In a growing number of cases, the idea that “all Internet traffic or apps should be treated equally” is clashing with efforts to supply consumers with affordable mobile Internet access. The latest example is a new “Virgin Mobile Custom” ostensibly created for parents who want to control usage by their children.

Key to the plan is the extreme customization. Virgin Mobile Custom allows users to customize their talk, text and data options anytime they choose, directly from their phone, by sliding a bar on the app to control the number of minutes, texts and data the customer buys each month.

Virgin Mobile Custom users can see exactly how much changes to their plan will cost before committing, and change their plan as many times as they want throughout the month, Virgin Mobile USA says.

The new prepaid mobile plan can be used by as many as five accounts for each plan, with each line costing as little as $6.98 per month. The plans will be sold exclusively at Walmart stores.

The “Base plan” comes with 20 texts and 20 voice minutes. Customers can purchase unlimited texting only for $10 a month, or unlimited voice only for $18 a month.

“Add-ons” that provide unlimited access to such apps as Facebook or Pandora, or provide 30 minutes of international calling to specific countries, can be added on a recurring or non-recurring basis.

The “Unlimited plan” costs $35 with unlimited talk and text.

Virgin Mobile Custom also allows parents easy control over how their children use their phones, allowing them to limit the times of day talk or text can be used, and even limit certain apps or data use during inopportune times like during school hours, or when it may be unsafe to do so, such as while driving.

But the big strategic issue is the ability to create affordable plans that are centered on just one specific app, such as Facebook. That does not “treat all apps equally.” But such plans are a certifiable way to increase use of mobile Internet services and apps by cost-conscious consumers.

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