Unlimited iPhone Internet Plan – only $20

August 30, 2008

For a number of years, I’ve been hanging around with a crowd of new-media folks. These people introduced me to Twitter and and showed me how to use other technological connective-tissue applications to converse with and learn from smarties.

Now I’d like to give back. Here is how you, too, can get unlimited Internet access on your iPhone for $19.99 a month without a contract. And thanks to Steve Garfield for suggesting I create a column detailing my technology win.


*Any similarities to my experiences are purely coincidental, I am only telling the story in the first person because third-person writing requires a better technique than I’m willing to exercise at 9:38PM on a summer Saturday. Anything quasi-legal that happens/happened in this shared recount is purely anectdotal and you can assume that it never happened. Especially to me. ESPECIALLY the unlocking and jailbreaking of an iPhone – which we all know is against your terms of service.

As I sat in the portable hammock trying to text message a friend on my crummy Verizon LG phone, I got a call from a fellow podcaster. He sounded gleeful, so I tried to quickly get him off the phone so I could continue pouting and fighting with my phone. But he wouldn’t be deterred.

This friend, let’s call him Jason Calacanis, pressed on and urged me to ask him what he was doing right now. I blithely said that he was talking with me and he snickered.

“No, what am I doing right now?” he insisted.

I said he was probably being chauffeured in his Tesla Roadster. He laughed again and said that he was playing with an iPhone and it was a better gadget than anything he had ever seen as CEO of Netscape.

I said, “I doubt that,” mostly because this was an imaginary conversation and Mr. Calacanis has never been to Jeff Cutler dot com. And I doubt that a link to his blog will get a reciprocal action, but who really knows. But I digress. On with the technical aspects and details to getting your own iPhone running on a data plan that will only cost you $19.99 a month.

This friend said that he was cruising the Internet with ease and could check his email anywhere…even in the bathroom at the Rowe’s Wharf Boston Harbor Hotel.

I asked how and he said that he only had to pay $200, sign a two-year contract and pay about $80 a month for a mere 400 cellphone minutes and all-he-could-eat Internet access.

I feigned excitement and said, “Really? Could I get bent over for a grand total of $2000+ just to check my email, send IM’s, read Web pages and Twitter from anywhere?”

He said that I was just jealous, and inside I agreed. I was struggling with Verizon’s crappy Wireless Web on a miniature cellphone screen. I had no access to my own POP email and I wasn’t able to access AIM or Twitter. I wasn’t sad until this friend pointed out my woefully unconnected situation. Then I was miserable.

So I set out to find a way to make myself happy.

First, I scoured Craigslist. I looked for a first-generation iPhone. I wanted to find one in perfect working order. No damage. No crazy stories from the seller. I wanted the ‘grandma’s creampuff’ of iPhones. I found it.

In Jamaica Plain, there was a gentleman who had just upgraded to the newest iPhone and was trying to sell his original 4GB model. He had spoken with a handful of people about the phone and they had all fallen through. Then I came along.

We traded emails and the man said he was waiting on one last buyer who seemed a little flaky. If that fell through, the phone was mine. I held my breath and checked my email regularly. Then the message came…the phone was mine if I still wanted it.

I pounced.

I met him at his house and gleefully handed over $220. The phone was pristine, in perfect working order, included the box and the original cleaning cloth. He even said I could call him with questions about working the phone. Best of all, when he got the phone he purchased AppleCare – a transferable insurance policy on the iPhone that covers it against pretty much everything except malicious damage.

For just over $200 I got a perfect iPhone with a warranty that won’t expire until July 2009.

I got it home and played with it for three days. I was Wijacking all over the neighborhood and throughout Boston. It wasn’t too difficult to find an unsecured Internet access point and checking my mail and getting online was easy. Then I went to a Tweetup (a face-to-face gathering of technology folks) at John Harvard’s Brew House in Cambridge, MA.

There was no free Wifi. There was no unsecured access. I was bumped off the ‘Net. While people like Steve Garfield and Peter Kim were able to hop online with their gadgets, the only happiness I could find was an excellent caramel bread pudding and a mediocre draft beer.

I decided that the next day I would solve my access issues.

A search online brought me to…

iClarified – a site that shows you how to unlock your first gen iPhone and how to jailbreak any iPhone

iPhone Freak – a site that had a rumor about a MediaNet plan that AT&T was reluctant to offer

Wireless and Wifi Forums – where some people have asked if AT&T would chase them down if they got data plans only

and AT&T’s own Forums – where they simply answer YES to the question about putting MediaNet and unlimited Internet on a Pay as You Go plan

Here’s the skinny on what I did and how easy it was.

1 – Unlock the phone. Your phone must either be out of contract or unlocked via the iClarified method on their site. Otherwise the phone and iTunes will want you to activate the phone on a contract.

2 – Go to an AT&T store that sells prepaid SIM cards (keep your iPhone in your pocket). Not all AT&T stores sell these so make a few phone calls to find a store that does.

3 – Buy a SIM card. Any denomination. I bought a $100 card and popped it in. Choose the $1 a day and $.10 a minute plan. Don’t worry, you’re not using the phone as a phone – if you are, you might be better off with a phone plan from T-Mobile or AT&T as it will get expensive to make calls on the phone.

4 – Activate the phone with the code the salesperson gives you.

5 – Once the phone is active, call 611 (the customer service line at AT&T – a free call) and add the MediaNet unlimited feature for $19.99 per month. The larger MediaNet plan is $39.99 a month and includes unlimited text messages. You can add text messages pretty cheaply if you’re not texting more than 200 times a month.

6 – After adding the MediaNet plan, you can access the Internet via AT&T’s EDGE service for free, unlimited. Your account has been debited $19.99 and you’re good to go.

In my case I won’t be making calls on the iPhone because I’m locked into a contract (remember how bad contracts are) with Verizon for the next year. When that contract is up I will look at what phone plans are available with data via T-Mobile and AT&T.

Any questions? Put them in the comment section here. I’ll answer them as best I can.

See you on the ‘Net.

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