This website supports the millions AT&T customers who, between October 2011 and October 2014, paid AT&T for an “unlimited” data plan for a smartphone. Contrary to what AT&T promised, the FTC has concluded that AT&T systematically breached these contracts by “data throttling.”
If an unlimited data plan owner used "too much" data AT&T would severely restrict that user’s ability to send and receive data by slowing down connection speed. The FTC reports that some throttled users experienced speed decreases of up to 95%. So, a throttled user could not do the things they bought a smartphone to do—like access the internet, download applications, and upload or watch videos. AT&T simply denied its customers the “unlimited” plans that AT&T promised and users paid $30 a month for (at least $10 more than any of AT&T’s limited plans).
This was unfair and illegal to all unlimited plan holders—even those who never exceeded the arbitrary data limits set by AT&T—because even they were paying a premium price for a plan that wasn’t as advertised. It was particularly unfair to plan customers who actually got throttled.
If you paid AT&T for an unlimited data plan at any time between October 2011 and October 2014, you may have a right to a partial refund. To see whether we can get some of your money back, click the “I'd Like a Refund” button to the right and answer a few questions.
AT&T’s data throttling policy has been the subject of a Federal Trade Commission investigation and lawsuit. It’s also received significant press coverage. A link to the Federal Trade Commission’s complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, and links to articles, are below. Here’s the brief history:
In June 2010, AT&T announced it would no longer offer new customers the option of purchasing an unlimited data plan. Before that, AT&T offered smartphone users unlimited data plans, so they could make use of all the features available on their smartphones. When AT&T discontinued its unlimited plans, it wanted to avoid losing their existing existing smartphone customers to competitors who still offered unlimited data plans. So, AT&T promised that, so long as customers continued to pay $30 each month, they could keep their unlimited plans (“grandfathering”). For comparison, AT&T’s most expensive limited data plan was $20 for 2 GB per month. Relying on AT&T’s promises, millions of users continued to pay AT&T $30 each month, either becuase they planned to use more than 2 GB per month or because they thought that in the future they might.
In October 2011 AT&T started its “data throttling” program. Initially, the data usage threshold varied by market. The threshold was set particularly low for customers in some of America’s largest cities. For example, if you lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City, the threshold was as low as 2 GB—the same amount that some customers were spending $10 less every month to get.
Later, in March 2012, AT&T changed its program to be based on the type of network a smartphone was connected to. Unlimited data plan customers with a phone that connects to a 3G or HSPA+ network (for example, iPhone 3G, 3GS, 4, and 4S models) had a threshold of 3 GB per billing cycle before throttling kicked in, while users with phones that connect to an LTE network (for example, iPhone 5, 5S, 6, and 6 Plus models) had a threshold of 5 GB per billing cycle before throttling kicked in. Customers with an HSPA+ phone affected by throttling could have their maximum data speed capped at 256 Kbps (kilobits per second) when, under normal, non-throttled conditions their data speed could range from between 2 to 6 Mbps (megabits per second). Throttled LTE users could have their data capped at 512 Kbps, while their normal speed could range from between 5 to 12 Mbps—meaning that their data speed was limited by more than 95%.
AT&T mostly kept its policy of restricting its customers’ data usage a secret, although some customers did report receiving texts or emails warning them that they were close to exceeding the threshold. There’s a good reason for AT&T’s secrecy: the focus group testing AT&T did before data throttling policy showed that, when told of AT&T’s plan, focus group participants’ reactions were “negative.” AT&T knew customers thought the plan was “clearly unfair” and that continuing to market the plans as “unlimited” was “misleading.” The fact is, in our view and the FTC's, AT&T breached its contracts with all unlimited plan subscribers whom it throttled.
You can download a copy of the Federal Trade Commission’s complaint below. Or, you can read the complaint online here.
Numerous articles have been written about AT&T’s data throttling policy—and why it’s unfair to customers. Here are links to some of them:
Lesley Fair, The FTC’s mobile data throttling case against AT&T: An inside look, Federal Trade Commission (Oct. 28, 2014)
Jon Brodkin, AT&T still throttles “unlimited data”—even when network not congested, Ars Technica (Dec. 4, 2014)
Brad Reed, Revealed: AT&T’s sneakiest tricks for throttling ‘unlimited’ data customers, BGR (Dec. 10, 2014)
Jon Brodkin, AT&T defends unlimited data throttling, says the FTC can’t stop it, Ars Technica (Jan. 8, 2015)
Jeff Gamet, AT&T to FTC: We Can Throttle Data, and you Can’t Stop Us, Mac Observer (Jan. 12, 2015)
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