Verizon explains why it’s throttling its ‘unlimited’ data customers

“In a new blog post on Wednesday, Verizon said that it had decided to throttle some of its customers who have unlimited data plans because they were apparently causing congestion issues on its network,” Brad Reed reports for BGR. “‘What we announced last week was a highly targeted and very limited network optimization effort, only targeting cell sites experiencing high demand,’ the carrier explained. ‘The purpose is to ensure there is capacity for everyone in those limited circumstances, and that high users don’t limit capacity for others.'”

Reed reports, “Verizon’s statement comes in response to a letter written to the company by Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler, who said that he was ‘deeply troubled’ by Verizon’s plans to slow down connection speeds for LTE subscribers who still have grandfathered unlimited data plans.”

Read more in the full article here.

35 Comments

  1. In a case like this where saturation by volume of users is the issue I think Verizon has a responsibility to add more cells to the area, and honor the promise it has made to customers.

    1. True, but.. That isn’t something verizon can just do. Permits and government stops all carriers from adding new towers. It’s not a money issue, it’s government restrictions (local/state/federal, combined)

      1. I have know flipping clue how this stuff works , so I have a question. If they already have full area coverage why can’t they just add another transceiver onto an existing tower?

          1. Takin down one tower and adding another new tower *should* be easy..

            But laws restrict them from doing so.

            Example: where I live in the city they passed a “sign ordinance” so no new signs can be put up. (Billboards, or large signs on a company parking lot. Like a mcdonalds sign for example)

            Now existing signs can still be there.. Now when a trucker falls asleep and crashes into an existing sign… By law a replacement sign *can’t* be erected in its place.. Because it would be a new sign.. (Btw this did happen, company took the city to court and lost.. So company moved out if the city. Total BS)

            I think it was New York that AT&T had a 10+ year permit battle to replace a tower with a new LTE tower. Same BS.

        1. There are two parts to a cell site’s performance. One is RF (aka “the radio stuff”), and the other is backhaul (aka “the Internet connection”).

          1. Each carrier in the US has FCC licenses to operate in specific parts of the spectrum, in specific geographic areas. The frequencies they can use in each area are limited. As they reduce or eliminate support for older technologies (e.g., cdmaOne and GSM), they can free up spectrum for the newer ones (UMTS, LTE, etc.). That takes time, and has to be done carefully. For example, public safety systems often rely on old, slow cellular data modems in their vehicles.

          2. Each cell site has a backhaul connection, which connects the base transceiver stations (BTS) to the carrier’s switching centers. In older, smaller, pre-LTE sites, this was often a bunch of old copper DS-1 (aka “T1”) 1.5 MBit/sec circuits. That’s not a lot of bandwidth. Newer, larger sites with LTE cells have high-capacity fibre backhaul, some with 1 Gbit/sec bandwidth.

          So your observed performance on a cellular network depends on a bunch of factors, including how far you are from the cell site, how many other people are using it at the moment, and how big the backhaul pipe is for that site.

    2. I’m certainly no friend of cell phone companies, but they can’t just build a new tower because one is needed. As I understand it, the regulations and permits needed to add a tower are a major factor in why the US cell network is so much worse than in Europe.

      1. Be fair. It is not just “regulations and permits.” It is the fact that everyone wants seamless, high-speed wireless access, but no one wants the cell tower near their home or neighborhood. One of the reasons that the regulations and permits exist is to provide some control over that.

        Just try to put a cell tower in a middle-class or upscale neighborhood. It won’t happen.

        1. Some of the regulations are not bad, some are just insane..

          If there is a tower there now, I see no reason to stop a carrier from upgrading it to a new tower if needed. Regulations currently prevent them, it’s stupid.

          Same thing with solar/wind power farms.. Those that want them, fight tooth and nail to make sure they are nowhere near their eyes..

          Just try and cut a tree down in NY/NJ area..
          Or plant one in California. (I think it was CA that the neighbor sued him cause his tree blocked his view or some such BS)

    3. Good luck with that here in Silicon Valley. It takes a huge effort to get approval to add cell towers. The not in my backyard folks fight every case. You cannot just put more of them whenever and wherever you want. The tower nearest me is on a golf driving range fence. I was told the golf course gets $3,500 a month for that.

    4. Absolutely right! I’m sick of how the wireless carriers act like we (the customers) are to blame for their shitty service. I don’t appreciate having to have a microcell in my home because AT&T IGNORES repeated complaints about their coverage in my area. They have ignored my reports for over 6 years.

      1. It’s not quite like that. The carrier business is a competitive one, and they like to have happy customers, because happy customers don’t defect to he competition.

        As others have mentioned, a carrier can’t just stick a new site wherever they want or need to, particularly in residential neighborhoods. There are groups who try to block new cell sites, because they think they are ugly, or a health hazard, or will otherwise drive their property values down.

        For example: http://www.neighborhoodnotes.com/news/2011/02/what_to_do_if_a_cell_tower_is_proposed_in_your_neighborhood/

        1. I have been complaining for 6 years. That’s way more time than necessary to fix the problem. This is a mixed use area, so it’s not just a residential thing. There is no excuse for having such poor coverage here.

          1. I don’t know where you live, or what the situation is like, but here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

            Back around 2009, when AT&T’s network was being crushed by iPhone users, and everyone was screaming about it, I asked someone I knew that was involved in new tower deployments in the city of San Francisco (which is “mixed use,” commercial and residential) They told me that they’d been trying for 4 years to add more coverage and capacity in the city, but that they hadn’t been able to get even one new site approved by the city in that time. They finally got that solved, but it took *years*. So unless you know that the area where you live happily approves new cell sites, and hasn’t received any requests from your carrier, you don’t really know whom to blame.

        2. why would someone down vote this post?
          All he did is post a link showing exactly the problem with cell towers, groups of people put out false info and force carriers to have weak signals in areas. (while it’s very same customers whine about the weak signals)

          Money is not the problem. Most cases money is near the top of the list of reasons, for cell carriers.. it’s not.

  2. Ultimately if they’re exceeding capacity then you would hope they would add more, but at the same time, you can’t just do these things at the flick of a switch. If it’s only happening on an occasional basis in certain areas then you can understand why it’s not high priority. At the same time, I suppose it makes sense to maintain some minimum level of service across the board. Unfortunately, you generally get the impression that they just do these things to gouge customers for more money.

  3. “Verizon said that it had decided to throttle some of its customers who have unlimited data plans because they were apparently causing congestion issues on its network,”… wait, what?

    I thought Verizon touted, ‘it’s the network’! WTF… what give’s Verizon?!? Are you being greedy?!

  4. The reality is that none of the Cell carries can sustain gigabytes a day from their entire customer base. LTE bandwidth is limited and there are constraints that prevent the number of towers in any given area. Customers that still have unlimited plans are “grandfathered” These “grandfathered” customers, often have jumped through hoops to hold on to those plans well after the contract periods have expired.

    Verizon is trying to honor those old plans the best they can, without letting .01% of users create a horrible experience for everyone else.

    That being said AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, need to work to roll out wifi to heavily congested areas.

    1. I don’t remember Verizon ever having unlimited data plans that were grandfathered. Some seven years ago, AT&T had started with $20 data plans for the original iPhone (on top of the standard voice plans), and those people who had them were grandfathered when AT&T started limiting data, but I don’t think Verizon ever had unlimited data plans that were grandfathered. They had only recently started offering unlimited (under pressure from other carriers who started first).

      1. They were, to a point.
        My sister had Unlimited data along with my nieces. Grandfathered in.

        That is.. until they bought iPhones. As long as they stayed on a POS android they could keep the unlimited Data. as soon as they all made the switch, Verizon said the Unlimited data plan “is not compatible with iPhones”

        So for the majority of Verizon users, Unlimited data was not an option.

        I was scared AT&T was going to dump my grandfathered unlimited data plan when I got my iPhone 5.. they could have argued that “LTE” is not the same as the “4G” unlimited plan I was able to keep..

        When iOS 8 drops, i’ll be curious to how AT&T deals with the built in hotspots.

  5. It appears that there is a new grammar rule in effect (for English language): when a word ends with ‘s’, there will always be an apostrophe before it, no matter what.

    Therefore:

    Verizon ha’s advertised their network a’s the largest one in America. The network purportedly cover’s more customer’s than any other competitor. If they cannot handle all the high-speed traffic, then they shouldn’t be offering unlimited high-speed bandwidth to their customer’s. Otherwise, they will quickly be faced with a class-action law suit by all those unlimited customer’s who received notice’s that their bandwidth has been throttled.

    (writing this, with all those apostrophes, was pure torture; I just hope the meaning is still there…)

  6. This makes no sense. How is throttling unlimited data users going to help the congestion. Have they identified these unlimited users as the cause of the congestion? The fact that these users have unlimited data plans doesn’t mean they are using up all the bandwidth.

    The correct response should’ve been, “we are throttling everyone at this cell tower due to reaching capacity limits”.

  7. It is not quite clear, is Verizon targeting customers who have Unlimited accounts or customers who are high data users who also have Unlimited accounts? Does watching a movie qualify one as a high data user?

    1. According to Ars Technica, this is Verizon’s interim response to Mr. Wheeler’s letter:

      We will officially respond to the Chairman’s letter once we have received and reviewed it. However, what we announced last week was a highly targeted and very limited network optimization effort, only targeting cell cites experiencing high demand. The purpose is to ensure there is capacity for everyone in those limited circumstances, and that high users don’t limit capacity for others.

  8. An article about the letter sent by FCC director Tom Wheeler to Verizon:


    FCC chair accuses Verizon of throttling unlimited data to boost profits

    Wheeler: Verizon must explain why throttling policy doesn’t violate FCC rules.

    It’s interesting that Verizon used to be one of his employers when he was a lobbyist AND that a lot of Mr. Wheeler’s behavior at the FCC has been of direct benefit to Verizon.

    Mr. Wheeler’s letter can be read here:

  9. Regardless letters from clueless FCC officials, Verizon has the right to “shape” their traffic graph to benefit “all” users of their pops. These Netflix HD/4K watchers are still getting unlimited data but when over saturation occurs, it is being throttled as it should be. This has been done since the early days of telco data transmission. Those who think there is a magic bandwidth fairy are fooling themselves.

  10. Verizon is misleading the public. Verizon welcomes their customers ruining the experience for other users on a tower. All you have to do is pay them $750/month for 100GB and you can do it no matter how much it affects other users. File a complaint with the FCC that is about money not usage. http://www.fcc.gov/complaints

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