AT&T Wireless Begins Warning Top Users of Possible Throttling

AT&T said it was going to start a throttling or "network optimization" program on Oct. 1, and it wasn't kidding. The nation's second largest wireless carrier has begun sending out warning messages via SMS to the top 5 percent of data users on its network.

The text message alerts those affected that they are among AT&T’s top 5 percent of data users for that billing period, and suggests they use wi-fi to avoid reduced data speeds (throttling) in the future.

Currently, Sprint is the only carrier left that still has unlimited, unthrottled data in place ($100 for unlimited voice / data, with a $10 "Premium Data" fee for smartphone owners. It will be interesting to see how long that lasts after the Sprint iPhone launches.

T-Mobile offers a $100 unlimited data plan, but throttles users who exceed 5 GB in a single billing cycle.

Verizon has a policy similar to AT&T's, although in emails to us it has emphasized that its practice should be dubbed network optimization, not throttling.

At any rate, Verizon Wireless said earlier will reduce your data speeds if you fall within the top 5 percent of heavy data users. However, the practice only affects 3G customers and only those on grandfathered unlimited data plans.

Verizon eliminated its unlimited data plan in July and now offers 2GB for $30 per month, 5GB for $50 monthly and 10GB for $80 monthly. There is a $10 per GB overage fee.

The throttling measures are being put in place for AT&T users with unlimited data plans that have been "grandfathered in." In fact, AT&T gave these users a simple solution, but a costly one: if they want unlimited and unthrottled data, they should sign up for one of AT&T's data tiers. Yes, they would be forced to pay an overage fee if they exceeded their tier, but it would still be unlimited data (with a price) and would not be throttled.

AT&T was the first to do away with its unlimited data plan, which it did shortly after the iPhone 4 released last summer. Currently, the most robust data option is a $45 per month 4GB plan that includes tethering. Just as with Verizon, there is a $10 overage fee per GB.

Business analyst and Redditor Zaied Ali was one of those AT&T alerted. Ali averages around 6 - 7GB of data usage, but said that he used between 11 and 12GB of data during September.

He said, "What is the point of a Netflix app if we don’t have the back-end to fully support it? The tiered data plan is in the right direction, but then don’t throttle your users. Let them use what they pay for at the speeds that they paid for."

That's what AT&T (and others) want: they want you to pay for what you use. Think of the case of Ali: the old $30 unlimited plan for data, or say $25 for 2GB and then another $40 for 4GB more to get to 6GB. That means if Ali wanted unthrottled data, for the 6GB he averages, he would pay $75 a month instead of $30.

AT&T is a corporation after all, and it's all about the bottom line, therefore. It should surprise no one.