It’s been a while since AT&T quit offering its unlimited data plan to iPhone customers, but the grandfathered service tier is still wildly popular. What hasn’t been so popular, though, is AT&T’s draconian policy of throttling customers who exceed an arbitrary bandwidth limit. Under fire from the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, AT&T has quietly changed its throttling policy to be more reasonable.
Prior to the change, AT&T’s policy was to throttle 3G and 4G (HSPA+) customers who exceeded 3GB of data usage in a billing period. LTE customers could reach 5GB of data consumption before being throttled. All of this is despite the fact that limited plan customers regularly exceed 5GB of data usage, which makes AT&T’s claim that the company has to throttle big users to manage its network sound pretty silly.
Under the new language of the policy, AT&T will only throttle customers after 3GB (3G/4G) or 5GB (LTE) of data usage if the customer is attached to a cell tower that is experiencing congestion. The full language of the policy states:
As a result of AT&T’s network management process, customers on a 3G or 4G smartphone or on a 4G LTE smartphone with an unlimited data plan who have exceeded 3 gigabytes (3G/4G) or 5 gigabytes (4G LTE) of data in a billing period may experience reduced speeds when using data services at times and in areas that are experiencing network congestion. All such customers can still use unlimited data without incurring overage charges, and their speeds will be restored with the start of the next billing cycle.
This change brings AT&T in line with competitors who throttle. Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon all use throttling to some extent, but only to manage network congestion. Verizon attempted to enact a policy of throttling customers based on their billing plans, but FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler convinced the wireless provider to abandon that plan.
If a customer is subscribed to an unlimited data plan, they should receive truly unlimited data. I can understand scaling back a customer’s speed temporarily to manage cell tower congestion, but cutting bandwidth just because an account has already used a certain amount of data in a billing cycle should be considered a breach of contract.