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AT&T offers free HBO with its cheaper unlimited plan

It's a bid to keep you from jumping ship to other video-savvy carriers.
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Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

AT&T's initial offer of free HBO access to wireless subscribers was tempting, but there was a catch: you had to spring for an Unlimited Plus plan, which at $90 or more per month isn't a trivial expense. Now, however, you don't have to be such a big spender. The carrier is extending bonus HBO access to Unlimited Choice customers on September 15th, giving you the same streaming TV if you pay as little as $60 per month for cellphone service. This is one of the few perks of giant mergers, it seems. There are some catches to getting a freebie like this on a low-cost tier, of courser. The Choice plan caps your cellular data at 3Mbps and limits you to a maximum resolution of 480p for video streaming, so you might want to stay on WiFi for that Game of Thrones re-watch.

Naturally, there's an upsell involved. AT&T is giving customers the option of tacking on DirecTV Now's 60-channel "Live a Little" package for another $10 per month. Also, you still get a $25 monthly credit toward AT&T video services, and this time you can use it with DirecTV and U-verse TV in addition to DirecTV Now (Plus customers can only apply it to DirecTV Now). In other words, this is partly about enticing customers who wouldn't otherwise spend more money on AT&T services.

It's easy to see what else would prompt the sudden kindness. T-Mobile just gave free Netflix access to family plan customers, and Verizon is using its go90 video service as a lure. If AT&T didn't give some kind of video perk to a wider range of customers, it risked losing people to T-Mobile and other providers that could offer video extras on lower-cost plans. Now, it's less a question of whether or not you'll get video as the choice of video -- do you go for a narrowly focused but premium option like HBO, or the smorgasbord that is Netflix?

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