Yesterday, Apple and AT&T released the rate plan information for the iPhone, and the information has generated nearly as much positive buzz as the phone itself.

One of the last big questions that still had to be answered about the iPhone was how much it was going to cost in cellular charges to operate the thing. As the iPhone release has crept closer in the past few weeks, there have been tons of speculation. ZDNet’s Mobile Gadgeteer estimated that the iPhone would cost about $95/month for 450 minutes and a data plan.

However, the Mobile Gadgeteer and many others (including me) were pleasantly surprised when the three primary iPhone rate plans were revealed:

  • $59.99 – 450 minutes and 5,000 night and weekend minutes
  • $79.99 – 900 minutes and unlimited nights and weekends
  • $99.99 – 1,350 minutes and unlimited nights and weekends

The real kicker is that all three plans include:

  • Unlimited data plan
  • 200 SMS text messages per month
  • Unlimited mobile-to-mobile calls
  • Rollover minutes
  • Visual voicemail

The unlimited data plan is the major value here. Most carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon, charge $40-$50 to add an unlimited data plan to your standard rate plan. If you have a smartphone that you’re going to use for e-mail and Internet, a data plan is essential. And if you’re using a push e-mail program, an unlimited data plan is an absolute must because it is connected constantly.

I’m amazed at how affordable this is. I’m wondering if this will drive down the cost of data plans in general. After all, why pay $95/month for a Motorola Q or a Samsung Blackjack when you can get the same voice and data plan for $60/month with an iPhone — even if the up-front cost is higher? What do you think? Join the discussion.