Verizon (NYSE: VZ) could pick better role models, dude. I'm worried about the frenemies the company hangs out with today.

AT&T (NYSE: T) is the bad influence I'm talking about, of course. Ma Bell has destroyed tons of customer goodwill in the last couple of weeks. Let me count the ways:

  • Quite literally on the eve of Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) unveiling its new iPhone 4, AT&T got rid of unlimited wireless data plans, thereby crippling many data intensive features.
  • Hackers were able to exploit a flaw that linked an identification number from an iPad to display the owner's email address. It was a simple matter for hackers to grab bucketloads of addresses tied to iPad owners, and other personal information was also in arm's reach. Ouch.
  • AT&T should have thanked the hacker group for finding and reporting that hole, but instead spewed vitriol and stood by as federal law enforcement went after whistle-blowers.
  • When the company rolls out its newest high-end Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android phone into the fold alongside the iPhone, the Samsung Captivate will be hobbled by some unnecessary restrictions and missing features. Oh, and by the tiered data plans as well. But don't worry -- this one has an OLED screen and thus can't be a megaseller under any circumstances.

Now, I'm not saying that Verizon is about to release customer information on the open Internet or tell Motorola (NYSE: MOT) to stop making its future Droid handsets so darned feature-packed. But Big Red will almost certainly follow AT&T into the land of tiered data plans. CEO Lowell McAdam has indicated that the company plans to leave unlimited data behind when the company rolls out its next generation 4G infrastructure. That'll leave Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S) and Deutsche Telekom's (NYSE: DT) T-Mobile to jockey for position with low-cost unlimited data plans for their smartphones.

And as Minyanville writer Mike Schuster points out, Verizon has plenty of problems all its own:

  • Verizon may have the largest 3G coverage map, but also the slowest network in independent testing conducted by PC Magazine.
  • The New York Times reports cynical customer retention policies and totalitarian termination fees with no way out. If AT&T has the worst public relations department in the business, as the handling of iPad security problems would indicate, then Verizon is on the short list for the worst customer service award.

I hope Verizon takes the high road on data plans and proves us all wrong, but I would be very surprised to see it happen. No, the future will hold smaller networks with unlimited download policies versus the big boys and their nickel-and-dime mind-sets. Let the power of Grayskull ... uh, of the free market decide the outcome. I believe that average consumers will vote for unlimited data -- with their wallets.

If I'm right, then Sprint looks like a sweet, sweet investment opportunity today. Discuss the wireless future in the comments below.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. Sprint Nextel is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.