Smartphones

AT&T changes ‘unlimited’ data throttling policy following $100M fine from FCC

File photo - An AT&T Logo is pictured as a U.S. flag flutters in the foreground in Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 26, 2015.

File photo - An AT&T Logo is pictured as a U.S. flag flutters in the foreground in Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 26, 2015.  (REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)

Remember back in June when the Federal Communications Commission slapped AT&T with a $100 million fine for misleading subscribers on its “unlimited” data plans? Well you can be sure that AT&T remembers, and the nation’s No. 2 wireless service provider just quietly made a huge change to its throttling policy.

At the time, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said that consumers were being “deceived by misleading marketing materials and insufficient disclosure.” We’re not sure whether or not AT&T’s disclosure is anymore sufficient now than it was back then, but changes made this week to the carrier’s data throttling policy will certainly make unlimited plan holders quite happy.

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For those who might be confused right now, you’re correct: AT&T does not currently offer any wireless plans that include unlimited data. The carrier used to offer unlimited data plans though, and there are still some customers who are grandfathered in, and who continue to enjoy unlimited data.

Up until this week, however, those subscribers saw their data speeds throttled significantly in congested areas after they used 3GB of HSPA data or 5GB of LTE data in a billing period.

So what’s changed? That painfully low throttling threshold has now been raised all the way up to 22GB. Here’s the relevant passage from AT&T’s updated website:

"In line with common industry standards, our network management practices assure that our network resources are used for the benefit of all our mobile broadband customers especially during periods when network demand exceeds available network resources (also known as “congestion”).

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. As a result of this evolution, we recently revised our practices such that Unlimited Data Plan smartphone customers can now use 22GB of high-speed data during a billing period before becoming subject to network management practices that might result in reduced data speeds and increased latency."

In other words, legacy plan holders still have a limit on their “unlimited” data plans in many areas, but that limit is now much more reasonable than it had been prior to this change.