AT&T Dials Back Throttling Of Grandfathered ‘Unlimited Data’ Customers

If AT&T had its way, it all of its smartphone users would be on metered Mobile Share Value plans. After all, the plans allow AT&T to sell customers buckets of data each month and hit them with overages if they go over their allotted amount. However, AT&T still has a sizable amount of customers still clinging to less lucrative (to AT&T) unlimited data plans.

Even though AT&T offers data plans ranging from 300MB to 50GB (with popular sweets spots being in the 6GB to 15GB tier), the wireless carrier has in the past cracked down on unlimited data customers that exceeded “only” 5GB of data. That hardly seems fair, and the FTC agrees. Late last year, the FTC filed a lawsuit against AT&T, saying that it was “misleading customers with unlimited data promises.”

“AT&T promised its customers 'unlimited' data, and in many instances, it has failed to deliver on that promise," said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez in October. "The issue here is simple: 'unlimited' means unlimited."

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It appears that AT&T has finally gotten the hint, and its pulling back just a bit with regards to its unlimited data throttling, as noted by Ars Technica. Instead of simply dialing back customer data speeds to dial-up levels once they cross over 5GB during a given billing cycle no matter what the circumstance, AT&T will only throttle customers if they are currently connected to a heavily congested cell tower.

This is a big distinction as previously, the 5GB line was a hard limit that immediately invoked throttling. Now, a customer crossing the 5GB line will be completely free to download as much as they want when there are no other limiting factors on a given cell tower. Once a cell tower becomes heavily congested, these unlimited “data hogs” will be throttled significantly. However, once cell tower traffic dies down or if an unlimited customer connects to a less saturated tower, full download speeds will be restored.

This is an important change for folks on grandfathered unlimited data plans. It’s a shame that it took a lawsuit for AT&T to make this move, but it still isn’t enough in my opinion. If a Mobile Share Value customer with a 20GB data plan can download at top speed on a congested tower while an unlimited data customer that has used just 6GB of data during a billing cycle gets throttled significantly, that’s a serious problem.