Some more info on this: in a fit of disgust, I stopped by my local Verizon kiosk in the mall over the weekend and asked them about these new mandatory data plans.
He repeated the party line as to the changes they're making, even going so far as to say it's a great deal at $29.99 since it used to be $44.95. But he did offer me a loophole. He said if you really want a smartphone which isn't data-connected, you can still buy one provided it was introduced prior to Nov. 14, which was the start date of the new program. So, if there's a model available now that you like, it won't have the restriction of needing the data plan. All new phones released after Nov. 14 will. That alone may give me the chance I need to upgrade. However, I'll be SOL in 2 years when all the available smartphones will be under the new regime.
It doesn't look like Tmobile will be any better. They're raising their data rates too: