I have a pre-paid Verizon plan, that (IIRC) is unlimited text / talk, and 2 GB of data per month (I'm not the type of person that's glued to my phone 24/7 using 20 gigs a month or whatever, so 2 gigs is a plenty for me). The advertised price is $45, and I'm paying right at $48. So $3 worth of taxes, fees, and surcharges (don't remember the exact breakdown, but I think most of it is taxes). So for a simple plan like that, the additional price is minimal. I think where they get you is with multiple lines, and when you are buying a phone from them (I've got an old I-phone that's almost 5 years old now, still works great, though they tried their damnedest to get me to buy a new one when I switched to pre-paid).
As for service, people can say what they want, but Verizon is king. I laugh hard at all the advertising their competitors are doing touting how their network is "almost as good" as Verizon's, when it's not even close. Sure, there may be some areas that someone else has a better signal, but as a whole, Verizon blows them out of the water. I've had Sprint and AT&T work phones, and man were they a joke compared to Verizon. I've also got friends who have some of the other providers (T-mobile, US Cellular), and they too absolutely do not get the kind of universal good coverage I get with Verizon.