A lawsuit now makes 'tethering' PCs and phones cheaper.
While laptops often need cables or Wi-Fi networks to access the Internet, phones can log on from just about anywhere. So if you find yourself with excellent cellular reception but no Wi-Fi – such as on a road trip, in an airport, or at home during a power outage – why not connect your two devices? Let your smart phone deliver Internet access to your computer. It's called "tethering."
Until last summer, when Verizon settled with the FCC for $1.25 million, tethering was costly. Phone companies locked away the feature behind an extra monthly fee. Even if you never went over your phone's data allowance, the carriers wanted $15 to $20 a month to let you pass that data along to your PC.
Now, thanks to new monthly plans and software, tethering is much less expensive.
Verizon and AT&T revamped their data plans last summer. Both now focus on a large pool of data – anywhere from 250 megabytes to 10 gigabytes a month – that people can share across multiple devices and family members.
If you sign up for Verizon's Share Everything or AT&T's Mobile Share plans, tethering is free of charge – as long as you stick to your monthly data allotment. Most smart phones come with a built-in "mobile hotspot" feature. For example, iPhone 5 owners can find the toggle by opening "Settings" and then "Cellular." Once the hotspot is turned on, computers can connect to it as if it were a Wi-Fi network.