AT&T Clarifies Data Limitations on "Unlimited" Data Plans

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News Posted: Sun, Mar 4 2012 6:32 PM
Several months ago, AT&T notified customers that it would begin throttling network speeds for users who exceeded a certain threshold, with the definitive throttle point defined as an imprecise "the top 5% of mobile data users." The company has issued a statement clarifying this policy after irate customers with unlimited data plans demanded to know what the cap was and how the company determined who should and shouldn't be throttled.

The magic number is 3GB, which conveniently happens to be the maximum amount of tiered bandwidth AT&T will sell you. "Our unlimited plan customers have told us they want more clarity around how the program works and what they can expect," AT&T said. "For context, less than 5% of smartphone customers use more than 3GB per month."

So why would AT&T want unlimited  users to move to tiered pricing when its maximum tier is also set at 3GB? Simple -- the amount of money the company makes on customers who exceed that 3GB limit. The fine print reads: "If 3GB is exceeded, an additional 1 GB is automatically provided at a rate of $10 for each additional 1 GB." Anyone using above 3GB on an unlimited plan is a customer who isn't paying enough for the privilege (from AT&T's perspective).


The Internet, according to AT&T

AT&T makes a great deal of noise about maintaining the network's quality of service and the need to crack down on heavy users who, it's implied, are spoiling things for the rest of us. There are two major reasons to doubt such claims. First, AT&T's bandwidth throttle is based solely on a person's usage, not their location or the overall demand for bandwidth at any given time. In reality, this is never the case. At 5PM in a downtown metropolitan area, cellular bandwidth will be at an absolute premium -- a graveyard shift worker in one of the office buildings at 3 AM has no way to saturate the available spectrum, even if they had a dozen phones.

Second, there's the company's pricing. AT&T currently only offers two data plans -- $20 a month buys you 300MB, while $30 buys you 3GB. There's no way that works out to a fair market price in either case; either the 3GB is ludicrously discounted or the 300MB is ridiculously inflated. The point of the lower plan is to scare users into opting for the higher -- especially when you read this gem in the "DataPlus 300MB" fine print:
300MB of data is for use in the U.S. If 300MB is exceeded, an additional 300MB is automatically provided at a rate of $20 for each additional 300MB.
So bits of data are just $10 per GB if you buy 3GB in advance, but $67 per GB if you buy a 300MB plan -- and this somehow reflects the reality of a competitive situation, or maps in some reasonable fashion to issues like spectrum usage and bandwidth availability. The goal here is to push 3GB+ users with unlimited plans over to tiered options where they'll pay at least $40 for that use. If this was truly about keeping the network balanced, AT&T would implement a throttling solution that didn't choke users by as much as 95% once they exceeded the 3GB threshold. It would also offer data plans that created more reasonable tiers of service. As things stand now, AT&T has a major selling point -- if you exceed 300MB a month on the $20 plan, you'll actually end up paying $40 -- $10 more then you'll pay with that nice, roomy 3GB option.

Thus far, Sprint is the only company that continues to offer an unlimited data plan that's actually unlimited. We applaud AT&T's decision to tell folks when they're approaching the 3GB barrier, but it doesn't excuse the company's terrible behavior on virtually every other front.
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watch Jane Foody, who signed up for an "unlimited" data plan with AT&T, talking about her petition on Change.org, which asks AT&T to give her the unlimited data usage she's paying for, recorded from Yonkers, NY, on March 2, 2012, at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUfGTIixOlc&list=UUbG7WtNHM92KLviPKzb2gbA&index=1&feature=plcp

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LButler replied on Sun, Mar 4 2012 7:40 PM

Do what I did. Tell them all to STUFF IT! No data plan, no instant messaging, no picture transfers, no monthly SELLphone plan, no charges they refuse to explain on every bill, nada......Buy a pay-as-you-go prepaid that's ONLY a phone so noone can message it to death. Best one we found was Page Plus Cellular. The $80 PIN costs about $75 discounted from places like Callingmart. Their timer starts when you enter the PIN and expires in 360 days. The less you use it, the more you save! No monthly cellphone bill loaded up with $20 in addon fees, no nonsense and only 50 cents/month admin. Nothing's cheaper. Operates nationwide on Verizon/Alltel's megasystem. When you renew by entering next year's PIN before your last day of service, any unused amount ROLLS OVER, is not stolen. Works great. Paying these theives $100/month is CRAZY! My PP old Motorola Alltel Z6m works great where a brand new iPhone on ATT can't even find a signal.

Free internet is all over the place in any city big enough to have a motel and a diner. Why pay for it??

No, I'm a customer and this is NOT spam. I get nothing from PP except great service for 4c/min with no funny business.

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AjayD replied on Sun, Mar 4 2012 9:02 PM

"So why would AT&T want unlimited users to move to tiered pricing when its maximum tier is also set at 3GB?"

AT&T's maximum data tier is 5GB for $50, not 3GB for $30.

Also, AT&T is a horrible company with terrible customer service and policies.

 

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Manduh replied on Sun, Mar 4 2012 9:39 PM

How can they even be called "unlimited" if they are capped and throttled?

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realneil replied on Sun, Mar 4 2012 10:21 PM

It's a rip-off. I think that if you do business with them, you're getting the shaft. It's the same for most cellular service companies too.

Rip-Off.

Shaft.

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Great article guys. I fear what is to come with bandwidth limitations and throttling in general. We just configured a Verizon MIFI device to feed a customers network last month. They signed a lease in a building where the owners failed to disclose the inability to secure affordable broadband internet. They had hoped to keep the cost below the current price of 2 bonded T1's. While the speed was decent and reliability was pretty good, the first months bill was the same price as the monthly cost of the two T1's.

It would be nice to consider wireless data as a viable option for customers in this situation, but with the current cost of data plans and the lack of unlimited data makes it cost prohibitive fore small business.

On a personal note, I usually hit 5-6 GB per month on my ATT "unlimited" plan. I haven't noticed any issues with throttling yet. I'll report back if I get choked by the internet gods.

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MVacirca replied on Mon, Mar 5 2012 10:35 AM

If this was true, then why am I being throttled at 1.5Gb ??

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Dave_HH replied on Mon, Mar 5 2012 11:05 AM

Great insight, GWilmeth. Thanks for sharing. Would definitely like to hear more on your experiences in this area.

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AKwyn replied on Mon, Mar 5 2012 3:29 PM

AT&T proves over and over again that they're just a bad company. I mean they're trying all that they can to scare customers into plans that they think will make money for them; and the worst part is that they try to justify it by saying it's for the network when the truth is they have all of the spectrum they can have and they're just sitting on that spectrum as we speak. Only reason why AT&T is popular is because they have the iPhone; but even with that more people are leaving AT&T then ever before because you can get now get the iPhone on Verizon or even Sprint; if they didn't have the iPhone then they would be in the same place "as cingular" they were in years before, popular but not super popular. I have never dealed with AT&T and I don't plan to in the near future, not when there are way better mobile providers out there; if I plan to get a cellphone of course.

 

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metafour replied on Tue, Mar 6 2012 10:29 PM

When did the $15/mo 250MB plan disappear?

The pricing structure I see for my iPhone 4 is:

$20/mo for 300MB

$25/mo for 2GB

$30/mo for 3GB

$50/mo for 5GB that includes tethering

However, there is note that says if I switch from the 2GB plan I won't be able to switch back. It seems like they're constantly changing things without any type of realistic notification to customers.

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get developers to write apps that sip data rather than slurp it. Some apps i find that even if you have them not set to auto update in the background still use a ton of data the second you open them. I mean does an RSS reader have to update all your feeds when you open it or just each feed as you go into it? 

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GMinkin replied on Wed, Mar 7 2012 5:47 PM

Second month in a row I am being throttled at 2GB. I usually use about 4GB. Bastards. Been with them since 2005 because of the iPhones but I am SO SICK AND TIRED OF THIS CRAP COMPANY. Returned my 4s just because I didnt want to get stuck with 2 more years. In June I will be rid of them and will be moving to Sprint (love the actual unlimited option) or Verizon (wife gets discount at work and best reception in Baltimore).

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eavedrop44 replied on Tue, Jun 12 2012 12:56 PM

The company has issued a statement clarifying this policy after irate customers with unlimited data plans demanded to know what the cap was and how the company determined who should and shouldn't be throttled.

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