Verizon and AT&T are at the forefront of innovation again - in the field of fleecing the customer. Under the guise of per-byte billing, they're trying to change the current flat-fee data model for smartphones into one that will force you to pay a lot more.

If you believe their rhetoric, you might think you'll be paying the same per-byte rate whether you used 1MB or 1000. Use nothing and you pay nothing. It's "only fair".

But you'd be so wrong.

What they're really pushing is a caps-and-overages system. Here's Verizon's version - each smartphone owner must pay a mandatory base charge of $10, for upto 25MB. If you want more data, you can upgrade to the "unlimited" (read 5GB) plan for $30 per month. Go over your limit, and you pay steep overage charges. How steep? Consider AT&T's recently released international 3G data plan for iPads - $25 for a paltry 20MB of data, $200 for 200MB.

Given how ridiculously low the base limit is, most people are thus being nudged into a higher fee bracket. And if you're like most people, you're on a Wifi network at home or office 80% of the time. So you end up paying for a service you never use. More profit for the carriers, more money out of the customer's pocket.

Despite public outcry and a lot of media backlash, I don't see the carriers holding their plans back very long. The only thing stopping them is a lack of cooperation. As long as Verizon, AT&T and Sprint see metered billing as a competitive difference, we the consumers are safe. The moment they all decide it's the right way to go, that's it.