AT&T Extends 'Unlimited' LTE Data Throttling Threshold From 5GB to 22GB

AT&T, America’s second largest wireless carrier, has come under fire not only from customers, but also the FCC for its throttling practices on “legacy” unlimited data plans. The FCC fined AT&T a record $100 million for data throttling, with FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc stating, “Unlimited means unlimited. The Commission is committed to holding accountable those broadband providers who fail to be fully transparent about data limits.” AT&T for its part said that the FCC’s $100 million fine was “plucked out of thin air” in addition to being “arbitrary and excessive.”

Under its old policy, customers on AT&T’s legacy unlimited data plans are throttled back to near-dialup speeds when they use over 5GB of data during a given billing cycle and are connected to an overloaded cell tower. Whether AT&T is now feeling a change of heart or is simply trying to cozy up with the FCC, the company is boosting the throttling threshold dramatically.

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Instead of choking customers’ data speeds after 5GB, that limit has now been increased to very generous 22GB. A simple doubling would have likely sufficed for many customers, but AT&T has gone out of its way to more than quadruple the limit. AT&T cites technology “evolution” for its policy update.

“As you would expect, these network management practices have continued to evolve over time to benefit our customers and take advantage of the billions we have spent to expand and augment our networks,” reads AT&T’s updated policy on legacy unlimited data plans. “Further, speed reductions will occur only when the customer is using his or her device at times and in areas where there is network congestion and only for the remainder of the current billing cycle after the customer has exceeded the 22GB data usage threshold.

“We will notify customers during each billing cycle when their data usage reaches 16.5GB (75% of 22GB) so they can adjust their usage to avoid network management practices that may result in slower data speeds.”

While 22GB still isn’t “unlimited,” it goes a long way towards appeasing the relatively small number of AT&T customers that are still on unlimited data plans — most customers have been switched over to the more lucrative (for AT&T) Mobile Data Share plans.