Sunday, February 05, 2012

AT&T begins throttling unlimited users at 2GB, despite selling tiered data plans with higher limits

Last year, AT&T said it would begin throttling customers who are in the top 5 percent of users, and late last year, they began enforcement, as well. It seems, however, that at least for some, being in the top 5 percent means exceeding the 2GB limit that used to exist for its now-dead $25 DataPro plan.

Some AT&T users with grandfathered unlimited data plans are reporting that they are seeing their data throttled after they pass 2GB. Considering that AT&T's original "most commonly selected" data tier had been 2GB, and that it's current "middle tier" is 3GB --- at the same $30 pricing that the unlimited data customers receive, it's hard to understand that.

At the very least, since the two groups (3GB and grandfathered unlimited data) pay the same price, you would expect --- based on common sense --- that throttling might begin at 3GB. What's just as strange is that when AT&T began throttling its "highest 5 percent" of users, those who were seeing throttling said they were using 10GB - 12 GB of data monthly.

With this news, are we to believe that suddenly the top 5 percent has dropped to 2GB? Even if it has, why throttle then, if AT&T is offering not just a 3GB plan, but also a 5GB. That alone points to the 2GB "line" as not being among the "top 5 percent" of users that are "killing the AT&T network."

John Cozen, who first reported being throttled at 2GB, contacted AT&T after receiving a warning on his smartphone. After some exchanges with the company, he was assured it was not an error. The AT&T representatives said that 2.1GB --- where he was throttled --- fell into the "top 5 percent" range and the only option to avoid throttling was to switch to a tiered data plan.

Since then other users have chimed reported the same issue, but it doesn't seem to be universal. Some areas of the country report this sort of "low use" throttling, while others do not.

AT&T eliminated unlimited data plans for new customers in 2010, but allowed those with unlimited data plans to keep them in a process commonly known as "grandfathering." Verizon has done the same thing, and since it also says it will throttle its highest users, we wonder if it will starting throttling those going over lower data usage, as well.

The most obvious reason for lowering the throttling bar is to force users out of the unlimited plan. Once a user makes a change, they can never go back. AT&T has made no secret of the fact that ... their words ... "if users want truly unlimited, unthrottled data they need to select a tiered data plan."

You might say, "but their highest tier is $50." True, but as AT&T likes to point out, if you pay "overage fees," it's unlimited and unthrottled. Also unlimited, because of the fees, is the cost.

It's the same conundrum we've written about before. Content providers (like HBO, say) want us to use less bandwidth. ISPs, both wired and wireless, want us to use less. They can't have it both ways. Or perhaps, we (customers) can't have it both ways.

No comments: