It's time for AT&T to stop aggressive unlimited data throttling, or stop the unlimited plans

AT&T says resistance futile, ends attempt to assimilate T-Mobile

We've been covering the AT&T unlimited data plan throttling debacle from the beginning, including early reports, egregious 2G speed drops, and the recent 2GB "trigger" they seem to be using as the enforcement point. We've also been keeping closer track of things in our AT&T Forum. And after weeks and weeks of complaints, from loyal, longtime AT&T customers, we've yet to hear word one back from AT&T. There's no end in sight.

We've created a poll in the forums and asked you exactly how much data you've used in your previous billing cycle, regardless of your carrier of choice. The results to date are as follows.

  • 36% used 1GB or less
  • 25% used between 1GB-2GB
  • 10% used 2GB-3GB
  • 27% used 3GB plus

We're obviously an enthusiast community, and not the average user base, so the results aren't surprising. They do show what AT&T is dealing with, however, among a segment of their customers.

To address it, AT&T could try using a carrot as well as a stick. Offer grandfathered AT&T unlimited plan users some incentive to move to a new, tiered plan. Free tethering (within the data limit), or a small discount on the plan. Anything, as a sign they're willing to return the good faith of their customers.

Or they could just be honest and cancel the unlimited plans, and force everyone to move to a tiered plan, take the consequences and be done with it. They way it is now, since the first time that I was throttled at 2GB, I've felt like one of those settlers in the movies, with an evildoer cutting off food and water, and sending thugs to harass me, trying to slowly break my will and drive me out.

Great way to treat your customers, isn't it? Especially with Verizon offering better LTE deployment, which will be important come iPhone 5, and Sprint still offering unlimited data, which could be important to some customers now.

AT&T needs to get out in front of this. Hiding behind passive aggressive warnings and deliberately trying to ruin the experience of their customers is shameful. Let unlimited customers use the unlimited data they signed up for, offer us a fair incentive to move to a tiered plan, or just force the move already.

Right now, the situation is intolerable.

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Jeremy

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Reader comments

It's time for AT&T to stop aggressive unlimited data throttling, or stop the unlimited plans

71 Comments

If they already offer it on 5GB plans, then it's not an incentive. Offering it on 2GB or 3GB plans would be an incentive, or offering a token discount on 5GB would be an incentive.
Also, please try to comment without being rude. It's not hard, and it makes for a better comment environment for everyone.

How was that a rude comment. I know web are talking about unlimited vs limited plans but chill.

Please pardon my rudeness.
But I have seen many articles on tv, blogs, and print lately that fail to mention that AT&T made a good faith gesture by offering tethering with their 5gb plan. It is a very nice carrot for those like me who wanted to tether but were previously charged for the privilege alone. Now you get 2 extra GB plus the privilege.

Lets take this really slow so it's easy to understand.
Unlimited Data Plan = $30/month.
Actual definition of unlimited = 5GB/month
5GB/month plan = $50/month
How is this a good deal and how is tethering "free" with the 5GB plan??

Ya but sounds like you didn't have the unlimited plan. So you pay for what you want. I was sold unlimited ,unrestricted data service over AT&Ts advertised 3G network. Pull up some old 2008 original AT&T advertisements pushing the iPhone and the unlimited data plan. So when your throttled to 0.02mbps way way below 2G speeds then you will understand. You obviously don't so why comment. I live in a small town of 200 people with 6 At&T towers in close range because of mountainous terrain. We have no congestion yet I'm grouped with san Francisco,Fresno,Sacramento,san Jose,all the bay area.

Why would I or anyone pay $50 for the same 5GB of data that I should be able to get for $30 on the "Unlimited" plan I already have? I don't jailbreak to tether my iPhone, yet AT&T insists on treating me like a criminal who does.
AT&T is solely responsible for creating an environment that encourages their longtime loyal customers to use more and more data. Now they want to punish us for doing exactly what they encouraged us to do for nearly 5 years.
This author is spot on for arguing that AT&T absolutely cannot change the meaning of "unlimited", and should therefore either honor the meaning of the word or discontinue using it altogether.
This is exactly the point being made with this petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/att-unlimited-throttling-deception-fraud...

Your right on that. Its either unlimited or not unlimited. But AT$T just wasted 4 billion on that T-Mo buy. Everyone knew it wouldn't happen. VZW is spending around 4 Billion to cover 3G with 4G LTE. Imagine if AT&T would have done the same.

Please. This "change.org " is just a place for liberals to get emails for election time. It does nothing else.. Its a scam. This is what you call "trolling" get it out of this forum!

Signing a petition by itself does little. That's why links are included in the petition - to voice your complaints to the appropriate government agencies that can legally force action. This petition takes a stand that you can agree or disagree with, while providing an unbiased means of protesting.
Often, embarrassment brings about change far more quickly than the slow wheels of the law.
If reading a petition is too liberal for you, then here is where you can go directly:
FCC: http://esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm
FTC: https://www.FTCComplaintAssistant.gov/
BBB: http://www.bbb.org/
Keep in mind that America exists because our "liberal" forefathers dared to speak out against the oppression of the conservative British Crown.
Be a patriot!
Petition: http://is.gd/OF1NqG

They should offer free tethering no mater what tiered plan your on. Wouldn't it be advantageous to encourage tethering as its more likely to result in overages?

Nope, it wouldn't. AT&T doesn't expect the majority of its customers to use anywhere near 2GBs yet. Free tethering only encourages more data slurping.

Keith, I went to your AT&T site... Nothing there about free tethering, just a $50 5gig plan with a $10 surcharge for every gig you go above that.

The point of the article is they are throttling unlimited plans. Not any tiered plans as you have mentioned. GO SLAM YOURSELF

Agreed. It's one of those "early adopter" perks. Just like my sister-in-law has a SUPER cheap plan from T-Mobile, and has for a decade, so should be the case with AT&T. We put our trust in them to begin with, and have stuck beside them all these years, even through their growing pains.
Honestly, we helped build AT&T into the company it is (or should be) today. We, the early adopters, should benefit from the spoils of their victory(?) and be celebrated for our contributions over the years. 5GB/month or so is small potatoes for AT&T to pay for our loyalty.

I got the text the other night looked up my usage and I was right at 2gb. The worst part is I pay for 3 smart phones and the other 2 use maybe 1gb a month combined. Then I looked up my upgrade date; not until May 2013! I have been able to get every iPhone every year since the iPhone 3G. It's total BS I've been with AT&T (or a company they bought) for 12 years now. I would hate to jump ship, but knowing big red LTE is in my area and AT&T LTE will be years off I may.

ATT are nothing but thieves. I am sick and tired of being pressured by the greedy pigs. I say we revolt and move to a more customer friendly network, which I know is more easily said than done. If the millions take action, they will have no option but to give in to there customers needs or sink to the bottom! Remember folks, they are nothing without us!!

AT&T should offer grandfathered unlimited customers to continue their unlimited plans for $30, but throttled after 3Gb.
Other customers for $30 get 3g, then charged for overrage.
It is a stupid PR move to throttle at 2gb, when 3gb is much more fair.

Especially when Verizon only throttles based on the tower your connected to. Not the amount of data you use.

I have unlimited with AT&T and I can't wait for this year's iPhone 5 for Verizon. I'd rather move to a tier plan with another company than to keep at&t unlimited throttling madness.

Some people's comments make them sound so self-serving.
Is ATT handling this properly? No. Cut off unlimited plans period.
But people seem to think data is this unlimited resource consumable at will. But it simply does not work like that. It comes to a point where your heavy data usage is hurting other customers' usage, and you have to be curtailed from your use. ATT serves all of it's customers, not just you personally because you feel entitled because you pay your monthly bill like tens of millions of others.
There is a finite amount of expansion of the data network, system resources, servers, lines, etc. that can be done, and cannot possibly be done as fast as data consumption is growing. There is just no way to do all of those upgrades as fast as the data trend is moving up. So there has to be a line somewhere.
Again, no they are not doing this right by throttling. Cut unlimited users off period; they either stay or leave. And there aren't many better places to go right now with the policies the slim majority of users seem to want where it's a free for all and it should be me me me. Mark my words, EVERY carrier will be tiered data soon, even the last man standing of the big boys- Sprint. The ONLY reason they could do it for so long was no one was on their network! They lost MILLIONS of customers and had a ton of free capacity. As they become relevant again, their policies will become stricter as well with data and not remain unlimited forever.

Perhaps they think it's an unlimited resource because AT&T marketed it as an unlimited resource. If it says unlimited on the label, don't blame the consumer.

Verizon isn't fing over their unlimited customers. AT$T isn't in touch with their customers. Lets sell unlimited data plans and then when we cripple our network, we will screw over our unlimited customers. All because we oversold our network. Then we will but out T-MO. Oh wait...... Verizon spent 4 Billion on LTE, while we spent 4 Billion on a failed buyout. Wow no wonder we are #2 in U.S.A.

AT&T is a greedy company. Also having their customers pay for the T-mo blunder is wrong. They should suck it up. I almost left when they change the Cingular name because AT&T evokes anal raping. Not that I care much for Verizon either. Might try T-Mobile but want to keep my iPhone. What to do?

Scary is I left to Verizon and had much better service,but had been with AT&T since it was GTE mobile net I believe,it's been awhile. I had a written guarantee my unlimited plan wouldn't be restricted or canceled because I use it as an emergency responder in my area transmitting telemetry and receiving advanced medical direction. I
came back to AT&T because the made promises. Gave me so called impossible iPhone 4 early upgrade for $199,when mine was stolen 1year into contract. Then to restore my unlimited data plan without worrys of losing it. It's in my account documented. 9 AT&T reps all said they read it and agree my data should be restored but they don't know how to do it.Then my FCC and
BBB complaints got response from executive headquarters. They said they agreed also but can't turn it back on. no one knows how is the excuse. There is no band width issues. AT&T is just congested in certain large cities. Don't believe all the lies. Really investigate and learn the truth. It's just greed.

You made some good points. Until...
Saying that AT&Ts resources are limited, while true, is whose problem exactly? You see ATT was broken up by the gov't for monopolistic practices. Now they have reaquired all those baby Bells that were created after the breakup. As well as multiple smaller operators & local telcos. All so they could boast about a larger footprint. Now they have to provide the coverage they were so anxious to buy. The fact that large swaths of the US lack even ATTs 3G coverage is an embarrassment. Or at least it should be.
Remember that quite possibly the single biggest problem ATT encountered with the TMO buyout was when their own internal documents showed they could cover the nation in LTE for a fraction of the cost of the buyout. If the money is still there for ATT to keep buying other providers, then suck it up & build out your network.
It's time for AT&T to quit playing games & get serious. Having said all of this I left ATT 2 yrs ago so I have no dog in this fight. Verizon has actually cost me less, thx to a corporate discount I didn't very from ATT, & it's a better network.

Funny you actually believe all the marketing hype. There is no bandwidth issue in a majority of the United States. I happen to be a person with access to this info through a nationwide disaster
response group that has to use Data for advanced medical direction. After numerous EMS communications failures caused by AT&T throttling,state investigators have given AT&T reports documenting tower usage and data transmission congestion during many communication failures they investigated. It's a scam to scare congress into allowing the t-mobile deal. Didn't work because it's a lie now there trying to recoup all the loses from trying to get t-mobile. Thanks to the government for once.

How about they just upgrade the back haul network. I am testing for wok the Samsung Skyrocket which is "LTE" and the Galaxy S II which is HSPA+ I have a LTE connection to the tower. When I speed test both phones I get nothing better than the HSPA+ speed. That is obviously the back haul.

Merriam-Webster's (http://www.merriam-webster.com) definition of UNLIMITED:
1 - lacking any controls : unrestricted
2 - boundless, infinite
3 - not bounded by exceptions
Each one of these definitions from Merriam-Webster says to me that an "unlimited plan" means no limit on data. Throttling the data speed down means, practically, no service. You say it doesn't? Well how about throttle the speed down to 1 Kbps. How would that service be different from no service, practically? When does it stop being "throttling down" and become "no service"?

When you get 0 Kpbs. Lol. If its at least 1Kpbs your still getting unlimited data just not at the speed you want. Still AT&T needs to learn from Verizon, they may be expensive but the coverage is worth it.

I've only my phone's unlimited data plan for Internet access, so this means a lot to me. I'm beyond frustrated by the newly imposed 2GB cap. I feel like I've been cornered. I can no longer do half the work I need to, and have had to cut back on all pleasurable distractions like YouTube and games that use up my limited data. How is 2GB a month supposed to be in the top 5%?! I'm sick of these liars taking advantage of me.

Please read more carefully. I've the grandfathered unlimited data plan, not one of the tiered plans. I'm not charged extra for going over 2GB. My data is capped at 2GB and then dragged down to the great aunt of all dial-up that prohibits me from using the phone correctly. That's what I'm complaining about. I've payed a flat fee of $30 for unlimited for three years and no trouble, so to suddenly be slapped around by AT&T is a nasty shock.

AT&T is confused by your use of the phrase "good faith." Perhaps you should explain it in terms that won't cause hysterical laughter on AT&T's part.

Switch providers or stop bitching do you complain every time you gotta buy milk or eggs or gas come on people you want apple to give you the perfect phone and on top of that AT&T to be perfect lol stay in Canada where ur safe lol

I they were to cancel the unlimited plan for which we signed up, wouldn't that be a "material change" in the terms of the contract, allowing everyone to cancel without paying an ETF?
Just asking.

I think the way to get around that is to not allow grandfathering in of unlimited data when you sign a new contract (when buying a new phone or possibly at the end of the contract term). I also think that allowing tethering on the 3GB plan without additional fees would also persuade people to move to a tiered plan. I know I'd switch if I got "free" tethering for those very rare times when it would come in handy.

Why dontbyoh just go and f**k yourself. No one cares what your selling. Go back in your parents basement.

Having become an iPhone owner as of 8:47pm on Sprint, I have family that have the iPhone on AT&T and have never usually gone over the cap just recently started getting throttled and there is no way in Hell they can consider them the top 5%. It's kinda ridiculous what AT&T is doing and not to hear a response from them on the matter is kinda ridiculous as well that's why I could not see myself going to them or T-Mobile for the throttling.

Only thing T-Mo has going for it, is they tell you after 2GB your throttled to 2G speeds. With AT$T they use a number that varies every month, so there is no way to know how much you can use.

It's simple and yet diabolical. AT&T wants you to be upset about this. Either you move to a tiered plan and pay AT&T more money, or you move to another carrier and reduce the load on their network.
AT&T wins either way.

If you're a heavy data user on an unlimited plan you're costing AT&T more than you're worth to them. They do want this, that's why they're doing it.

Here's a thought for AT&T: Honor your commitment to those customers who are grandfathered in and try to earn their respect back. Don't throttle those who are grandfathered in or even force them to change plans. Accept that they (AT&T) have pushed smartphones (which come at a hefter price to the consumer with data plans that are also at a hefter price to the consumer) knowing that it was going to cause data consumption into their customers hands to boost their own revenues. Instead, now that they believe they have not milked this monster they have built for enough money they want to punish the consumer for using what they, the company have given these people. AT&T as well as any other carrier who even considers doing this to their customers should consider doing the right thing by accepting the business decisions they have made and moving forward. And for God's sake, quit crying over spilled milk!!!

People don't want big government but this is a case where the FCC should step in to protect the consumer. How can AT&T advertise unlimited data to sell millions of iPhone and then limit the amount of data to 2bg. I wouldn't mind changing my plan to 5gb with tethering in exchange for my unlimited status but don't tell me that they have a right to do this. Bunch of crooks, I hope they go banckrupt within the next two years or so.

The unlimited plan is still better, because I don't have to worry about getting dinged for going 1 byte over. And it's still mostly usable, albeit agonizingly slow. Most of what I do doesn't need the speed. I can't stream video, but I can audio. Upload speed is unaffected.
In fact, I'm using more data than ever. Today is the end of my billing period and I'm at 16 GB. When the new month starts I'll be more frugal, but since I drive for a living, I go through about 1 GB a week without trying. Once I get throttled, I no longer have incentive to conserve data. If they'd let me use a bit more, I'd actually use less. (it's almost all in the middle of the night, so I'm not affecting anyone else.)

They throttled me at 3 GB and I still felt compelled to run it up to 19 GB. They're going to sh*t on me well it's all I can do to flick some back their way.

Unreal... Over the past year that I have averaged about 1.6GB of usage with my high being 2.3. Now I am getting warnings when I am at 1.5 in NYC? Last month I was throttled on my last day at just over 2GB.
Stop the charade and yank the unlimited option from the grandfathered bunch and deal with the fallout or actually let us use what it is we thought we bought. Not 3G until 2GB and dial-up speed beyond that.

Also let me add.. after explaining to me the concept of WiFi and me explaining that I was on WiFi typically for 20-21 hrs a day... save for the 3 hours or so I spend in transit, she had the gall to say "Let me guess, you use Pandora or Netflix on your commute... that is the problem." That's the problem?? How is that a "problem."
I actually don't use either very much on the commute, a ton on WiFi, but between some streaming radio, podcast streaming and my email I am now becoming a 5 percenter at 1.5 gigs??? I am an avid snowboarder and love using an app to track my days on the mountain.. so this weekend I have to abandon that or else face data speeds next week that render most activities on my phone unusable??

I agree AT&T should take care of their long time unlimited data subscribers, but i also understand their need to hold down consumption. Incentive is the key. They should offer 2 options:
1) free tethering up to 2 or 3GB, before throttling or
2) up to 5GB without tethering.
If an "unlimited customer" voluntarily uses less than 2GB, should AT&T care what device is used? If you choose not to tether, you get a higher cap.
Quite honestly, AT&T isn't going to waste time or effort on this because, for most of us, the issue goes away when we upgrade to LTE. Who thinks there will be an unlimited LTE plan?

First I would like to say to the people you are WRONG when you say you pay for data and not speed you pay for both. You are saying that at a snails pace speed your still unlimited so AT&T is right your wrong. If you remember unlimited data on the original iPhone was 20 bucks a month. When the data went to 3G speed it went to 30. The reason was you were getting a better FASTER network. So the 10 dollars extra a month is for speed 20 bucks is for unlimited data thus I pay for speed and data AT&T is WRONG. Also my cycle just ended I reset my phone. After 2 days the phone said I used 68 mb of data. AT&T says I used 256 mb of data who's right here and why are they so off and how come we can't get a straight answer from AT&T. Things that make u go hmmmm

I will soon be moving away from ATT.
An to a better company. That is how you solve the problem. I've been with ATT for almost 15 years. This means nothing to them, but my money will soon not go to these thugs.

I think that forcing the plans/doing away with them completely would cause an even higher backlash as many would almost indefinitely switch to other carriers. My complaint is how they say we are "slamming the servers" but it clearly doesn't matter if we are or aren't because if we switch to the tiered plans we can slam as much as we want. At the end of the day they don't like that we are using X-amount of data for a somewhat "free" cost. It's not that they cannot handle the slamming but that they aren't getting our money for it. The dollar will always rule and it sucks. If they do away with the plans I will do away with my contract. Simple.

was throttled at 1.9 GB 16 days into the month. no mail or anything. most of my apps needs internet and wont work w/o it.
im betting att counted everybody to determine that top 5%, all the people w/ phones even if they dont have a smart phone or data plan. the numbers are obviously fixed so that they can throttle more people.
when my contract is up, ill return my phone straight through the window of some ATT store, they can keep that crap.

If you have a valid complaint (like I have seen many on here) contact your Attorney General Office for your state, and the Federal Communications Commission, via the net, and submit a complaint to both of them about AT&T's conduct. It only takes a couple of minutes on each site to accomplish this, and they will contact AT&T on your behalf. Through the rumorville, most problems suddenly disappear between you and AT&T, after they are contacted by these agencies on your behalf. HUH! Also as a short-cut, when you type out your complaint at one site, copy it so that you can just paste it in the other site. If we could get this to be a well known tactic, we could probably bring AT&T to their knees. Good luck.

This the the best write-up on the internet I have seen about the ATT unlimited data plan. The writer is correct ATT either should get rid of their unlimited data plan or make changes such as giving incentives to the unlimited data plan customers to change to a tiered plan. Most user, even those using 1GB a month feel "unlimited means unlimited" so even if ATT said they would not throttle anyone less than 3GB of usage does not solve the problem. The writer suggest an incentive and I have seem on the ATT community forum that many unlimited data customers said they use less that 2 GB a month and would happily change into another plan if tethering was included. ATT should offer fair plans like 3GB plus tethering for $30 or 4GB plus tethering for $40 only for their original unlimited data users.

The best thing they could do is offer no cost for ending your contract. So if you don't like it (and I don't), I wouldn't have to pay them to end my contract early and switch to another provider. As it is, I just renewed 2 months ago and this month they started bandwidth throttling. So my choices now are :
A. Switch to another plan and pay more
B. End my contract and pay the cost for breaking it early
C. Send them a dispute form requesting no throttling, then take them to small claims court.
I am opting for option C and then B should I win my court case.

I think congestion isn't the problem. I have unlimited my gf son just bought a plan and the salesman at AT&T corporate store said he has to buy gigs. You get so many for so much then $10 per any part of gig over your plan. But wait. He will never be throttled. If he has slow speed they will lose revenue. On the not unlimited plan there is no throttling. So they say. I'm unlimited I don't know. But it makes sense

Great, thanks! I actually found a solution by adding a line of code to the ready function, but your solution is cleaner. Here's what I did: