Earlier this week AT & T announced a controversial change to their data plan rates and usage limits. The net has been buzzing with complaints from users who feel they need higher caps on their data usage, not lower ones. But according to AT & T, “Currently, 98 percent of AT&T smartphone customers use less than 2 GB of data a month on average.

I have to wonder how many complaining customers are being impacted in any other way than saving $5 a month? I use my iPad a lot, probably way too much. While on a week’s vacation recently, I watched several TV shows (while working), over 3g. I was really impressed with how well it worked considering I was on 3g. I also surfed the web a bunch, kept up with my email and social networks. I downloaded apps, watched other video, and took a bunch of notes. The week before I did the same on a 3 day trip to Atlanta, and the week before that another 3 day trip to Sarasota, FL.

I keep my wifi turned OFF on the iPad, and use 3g even when wifi is available, because often the wifi my iPad picks up is actually worse (probably due to distance) than the 3g. In all, since I received my iPad over a month ago, I’ve used under 2 gigs of data. I also have no doubt that as time goes on, that monthly number will drop. I used it a ton when I first got it because it was new. I’ll never purchase as many apps in a month as I did this month. Usage will level off, and I certainly won’t always travel for half an entire month either. And if I did get close on data usage, I would start using wifi when available.

I think this is a perfect example of what I often tell clients and startups, that you must both listen to and ignore your customers all at the same time. The trick is knowing when to do each. And as always, observing your customers actual usage of your product provides far more info than asking them their opinion. There’s nothing wrong with asking of course. PeepNote is doing that right now with a survey (we are giving away a few Pro Plan year memberships in the process too), but you can’t assume that your customers are always right. I used to spend hours watching people use web sites in UI focus groups. Their behavior rarely ever matched up with what they thought their behavior was. We as humans simply aren’t always aware how inaccurate our perceptions can be when compared with reality, particularly when not in our area of expertise.

Customers can’t know where you are coming from, where you are going as a company/product/service, what your expenses are, what your limitations are, nor what you are actually seeing vs hearing. With AT & T, they saw the the majority of users didn’t need more than 2g a month, but that a tiny percentage where ruining it for everyone by using far more than the rest. So, instead of listening to your demands, they ignored you, and in the process, lowered your monthly bill, reduced strain on their network, and stopped forcing YOU to pay for someone else’s usage.

Consumers have to remember, that while a company needs to make its customers happy, it also has to make money. You can’t do one without the other. AT & T seems to have done the right thing here, and ignored the talk while observing the behavior. Hopefully for them, customers will see over the first few months, that there is no impact on them at all. Remember too, with this change came tethering, something consumers have been asking for, for years.

What do you think and how much data have you used on your iPad or iPhone over the last month?