That’s how long it has taken AT&T to decide that it’s groundbreaking unlimited plan for the iPad is a little too consumer-friendly for a company so focused on wringing every dollar out of each subscriber. In other words say, goodbye to the affordability of the iPad as a streaming entertainment device.

Presented in the guise of affordability, AT&T has chosen the long-delayed release of the tethering feature (gee, really, it’s taken this long to get your act together, T?) to start making good on it’s promise to make those who use data pay for it.

Back in December, Ralph De la Vega laid the groundwork for this change while apparently claiming that per-megabyte billing wasn’t in the offing. That seems to be true in the literal sense only, as the other piece of the puzzle mentioned, the monitoring tools, were not ready. Now that the tools are ready, so are the higher charges.

What does this really mean? According to the previously linked article, De la Vega claimed that 3% of smartphone users generate 40% of the data usage. That doesn’t correlate well with the numbers in the AT&T press release announcing the latest changes, where only 2% of users are noted as exceeding 2GB/month of data. Really, T? If 40% of your data usage is measured in such small increments, doesn’t that mean that the network capacity doesn’t match the capability that you’re selling and charging for?

With recent moves toward femotocells at the customers’ expense, with the removal of the iPad unlimited option, and with the unreasonable delay in adding tethering to the iPhone (forget the valid “other carriers have handled it fine” argument, AT&T itself offers tethering on Blackberry phones on its network), it becomes clear that the company is interested neither in being groundbreaking nor consumer-friendly.

All hail the sad state of wireless competition in the US. That orange fabric AT&T covers the US with in their latest television commercials? It has a green lining; your money.