AT&T defends unlimited data throttling, says U.S. FTC can’t stop it

“The Federal Trade Commission cannot prevent AT&T from throttling unlimited data customers because of AT&T’s status as a common carrier, the company claimed in a motion to dismiss an FTC lawsuit this week,” Jon Brodkin reports for Ars Technica.

“Mobile voice is a common carrier service—similar to the utility status of the traditional wireline telephone network—placing it under the Federal Communications Commission’s jurisdiction. The FTC’s October 2014 lawsuit against AT&T applied to mobile broadband, which is not a common carrier service. However, AT&T claims that mobile voice’s common carrier status prevents the FTC from taking action against the cellular data portion of its business,” Brodkin reports. “The FTC complained about AT&T’s practice of slowing the data speeds of unlimited customers after they use a certain amount of data each month. AT&T is still throttling unlimited data users with LTE devices after they exceed 5GB each month. These customers see their speeds dramatically reduced even when AT&T’s network is not congested. Later this year, AT&T claims it will stop throttling these customers except in cases when cell towers are congested. AT&T already applies this less strict policy to non-LTE devices.”

“AT&T could end up winning its argument, but not in a manner the company would like,” Brodkin reports. “As reported yesterday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler signaled that he will propose reclassifying Internet service providers as common carriers in order to enforce net neutrality rules. That status could be applied both to fixed and mobile broadband. AT&T and other large ISPs have urged the FCC not to do this.”

Read more in the full article here.

22 Comments

    1. This a great illustration why companies that want to run Internet fiber to homes & small businesses need to be classed as utilities and thus compete with AT&T’s & other cellular carriers tight market control.

      Once fiber puts TRULY fast internet in homes and businesses, then sharing of WiFi will become the way most people access data on cellphones rather than pay AT&T for it on their cell plan.

      That single classification of internet fiber as a utility allowing them to run fiber on telephone poles is the one thing we can do to get the US “up to speed” with a lot of other much smaller countries.

      1. Buzz in the wind says that the FCC intends to reclassify Internet access as Title II:

        Title II for Internet providers is all but confirmed by FCC chairman
        Tom Wheeler says exactly what giant broadband providers didn’t want to hear.

        Title II lets the FCC regulate telecommunications providers as common carriers, and President Obama urged the commission to use Title II to impose net neutrality rules that ban blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.

        Don’t count your FCC commissioners until they’ve voted. We’ll see what REALLY happens within the coming weeks.

        1. When I saw them pre-announce this I wondered why. Then it dawned upon me why. They WANT the telcos to make it rain. The want all the bribes to come flooding their way.

  1. They would love to have it both ways: common carrier when it is about throttling, and business enterprise when it is about the net neutrality.

    I’m looking forward to seeing how this goes down.

  2. Let’s hope that’s not the case. Throttling should be illegal!
    That’s like offering gas at whatever price and not giving you a full tank. Offering to sell a shirt but only giving you one sleeve.
    Partial service is NOT service especially at a full price!

    1. In the real world, throttling is absolutely necessary.

      Think of a wireless company having 20% of the users in a major city. If even 10% of those users are pulling down data at once using LTE the aggregate bandwidth can be in the terabit per second class. No carrier today or in the near future is going to have that infrastructure.

      The real problem is under what circumstances throttling is implemented. Using a purely (and often absurdly low) total downloaded data cap as the trigger is truly asinine and, IMHO, should be illegal. Using a reasonable total download cap (say 5% of the theoretical, max possible download over a month) should be allowed.

      Also throttling of someone very near the tower with a phone that can pull near the theoretical maximum data rate and ONLY at times of major network congestion, is also quite reasonable.

      The rules that allow throttling should be very clear and very reasonable.

      The real *legal* issue here is at AT&T is saying their voice “data” is under the FCC as a Common Carrier and thus the FTC has no jurisdiction to do *anything* at all to AT&T. Then AT&T turns around and says that data “data” is not under Common Carrier rules (even though it is the exact same equipment on both AT&T’s side and the user’s side AND everything is digital whether it’s voice or data — there are *extremely* few analog phones out there anymore) so the FCC can’t regulate them.

      Nice to try to have it both ways! /s

  3. My hatred for AT&T knows no bounds. We left them years ago and would never go back under any circumstances. We’ve had our iPhones on T-Mobile since way before T-Mobile officially had iPhones.

    What needs to happen is that the cable and DSL companies need to be treated exactly like electric utilities. All aspects of internet service need to be split up and offered to any company wanting to provide the service to any customer. That would be basically content and delivery. Content should be wide open, with downloads and streaming available from anyone. Treat the wires for delivery exactly as in the electric utility industry. The owner of the wires gets only a set, standard transmission fee per GB, and has no control over content or usage. Further, the owner of the wires, if it sold content, would have to compete on an equal footing with all other providers of content. In the electric utility industry it is illegal for the transmission portion of a company to communicate user data to the ESP portion of the company. Data gathered by the transmission portion of the company cannot be shared within the company unless it is made public, which customer privacy laws generally prohibit without an opt-in from the customer.

    These abusive, arrogant, pirates like AT&T need to be reined in. I’ve had heated verbal arguments on the phone with unapologetic AT&T executives about customer abuse, such as cramming and slamming, and throttling. When I contract for something I expect to get what I’m paying for.

  4. I don’t think throttling should be illegal, but it should be spelled out (and explained) to the customer when you purchase a plan. If it isn’t in the contract, AT&T shouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

  5. ATT sucks.

    I was grandfathered into unlimited plan as I was an original iPhone customer. Service was great until iPhone 4, when all unlimited users were throttled after 2.5 GB. You couldn’t even load Google, it was that slow.

    I called customer service, and the conversation went something like this:
    Why am I being throttled?
    You’ve been identified as a high usage customer.

    How much do you have to use each month to be considered high usage?
    That’s private ATT metrics and is dependent on usage patterns for your subscriber area.

    I live in LA, so I imagine a big city like ours has a bigger usage average right.
    Again, ATT does not disclose subscriber usage numbers.

    So how do throttled users now if we are being throttled based on actual average usage patterns in our subscriber areas or we are just being arbitrarily throttled because you want to get rid of your unlimited users.

    ATT is being fair about applying this policy. All high usage customers are receiving texts that they are high usage subscribers and will be subjected to throttling before it actually starts.
    I’ve averaged about 7GB of Dara a month for the last year—you’re telling me that’s high usage for the LA area?

    [at this point she just repeated the ATT does not share blah blah blah]

    Why aren’t you throttling you’re 5GB plan subscribers when they go over there limits?
    Because they are paying for each GB and we can charge them per GB of overage.

    So if your next plan gets 5GB of data, why are unlimited users throttled at 2.5 GB? We should at least get throttled at 5GB, right.

    Of course nothing was immediately resolved on that call, but few days later the internet blew up over their unlimited throttling at 2.5GB and about a week later the policy was changed to 5GB to match their paid tier plan.

    Until that call, I had been an ATT customer since they were Cingular (I heard early that they were going to carry the iPhone).

    I left the first chance I got and I’ve been a happy T-Mobile subscriber ever since.

    Oh…and ATT sucks.

  6. AT&T has lots of tricks up their sleeve.
    They made me give up my unlimited plan by not allowing my daughter to have a phone with our family plan unless I gave up our grandfathered family unlimited plan.

    1. That’s weird. I have unlimited and signed my son onto my family plan. Still have my unlimited. Just signed my mother onto the family plan and still have my unlimited. So it’s definitely not a policy. The store in your area dogged you.

    2. I think this was the reasoning for throttling.

      They tried to have me give up my unlimited plan as well to switch to the 5GB plan so I wouldn’t be throttled…of course, I also wouldn’t have an unlimited plan.

      Users will continue to consume more data not less, so carriers will have to do something about improving networks to handle this shift.

      T-Mobile seems to have embraced this trend.

      ATT’s recent switch to embracing data rollover (however crippled) seems to be a sign that upgrades and data will continue to drive net subscriber gains.

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