Is Unlimited Data Really Unlimited?

November 15, 2014
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The Legal Issues Surrounding AT&T’s “Unlimited” Data 

is unlimited data really unlimited

How well do you know your mobile plan? Many of us sign up for whatever plan is recommended at the time of getting a new phone and then don’t give it much thought thereafter. Turns out you can’t trust your cell phone company to deliver you the best plan for your cell phone usage, it’s up to you to do the research. Many AT&T users learned the hard way, after finding out that their ‘unlimited’ cell phone plan wasn’t so unlimited at all. In this blog we

explain Internet throttling, and how cell phone plans can be very misleading.

Is Your Internet Connection Being Throttled?

It’s not just mobile devices; Internet providers can throttle (or slow down) all Internet accessed on any platform. If you download too much data in one month or are considered a certain type of traffic, your connection may be intentionally slowed down. For those with unlimited mobile data plans through AT&T, Internet usage has been throttled since at least 2011. The thing is it’s very easy to trick consumers so that they don’t even know their Internet connection is intentionally slowed down. Hence how it has taken so long for legal action to be taken on the matter. After all it’s not just AT&T that is guilty of partaking in this rather unjust activity.

How to check to see if your internet connection is being throttled

Federal Trade Commission Vs. AT&T—The Battle Heads To Court

Just last month, The Federal Trade Commission filed a legal complaint against AT&T in California federal court. Their goal is to seek compensation for all of the AT&T customers out there that thought they had an unlimited data plan due to misstated advertising.

In 2011, AT&T started slowing down data capabilities for costumers with an unlimited plan. Some users were given slower download speeds after using as little as 2 gigabytes, and found their data speeds slowed as much as 80-90%. In fact, according to data collected by the FTC, 3.5 million AT&T customers have seen their data slowed over 25 million times.

Some big names have spoken up in the mater, including the CEO and founder of Sepharim Group, Bob Egan. Egan claims he did not receive any sort of warning about the changes in policy, which lead to unlimited data plans receiving much slower service. After finding his unlimited bill was costing him more money, he actually ended up switching to a different plan. It’s all too easy for tech companies to trick users, and Egan hopes this lawsuit will help promote more honesty in the industry.

Matthew Gold, the attorney that filed the complaint against AT&T for the FTC says, “We’re trying to get them to stop promising unlimited data without accurately describing it to their customers. We are also seeking substantial monetary relief against the company, which would be in the form of redress to consumers who have been throttled.” (Learn more)

What Does AT&T Have To Say On The Matter?

AT&T comes in second only to Verizon in terms of users. In the US alone AT&T has well over 70 million customers (see here).

With so many people reliant on their services, how has the mega-company responded to the accusations that hint at manipulative business tactics? AT&T fights back, saying that only 3% of their costumers have been impacted, and that the company DID in fact send out emails, text messages, and letters informing users of the changes. Wayne Watts is the General Counsel and Executive Vice President of AT&T, and he says, “We informed all unlimited data plan customers via bill notices and a national press release that resulted in nearly 2,000 news stories, well before the program was implemented.”

While this may be true to some extent, the FTC claims the warnings issued were far from adequate. The FTC also maintains the argument that new plans were issued under false pretenses at the time of these changes. Therefore, current and new customers were misinformed about unlimited plans that were actually limited.

Tricky, Misleading Terminology

In the end, it all boils down to “slippery terminology,” using words in such a way that suggests one thing, while doing another. This is where reading the fine print would really come in handy, although most people do not take the time to do so. If a plan is titled ‘unlimited’ it is usually just assumed as such. AT&T, and all other companies, knows it, hence why they try and get away with stuff like this.

Michael Morgan is an independent mobility analyst that admits spending 100+ hours every 4-months going over the fine print details included in cell phone contracts. While his time turns up some rather telling information, he admits most mobile users are not going to do this. They simply don’t have the time or interest.

Maybe it’s time we all get more interested in long-winded contracts, after all Morgan has found instances of similar false advertisement conducted by all of the key cell phone companies. He actually hopes the courts don’t heavily penalize AT&T as an ‘example’ because he sees that as unfair in itself, being that all of the main cell phone carriers are doing the same thing in different ways. In fact, Morgan says, “The FTC is three, four years behind the ball on this, but they’re getting to it — even if the result may just be an extra sub-bullet on a marketing message: Speed throttled.”

Perhaps it’s time to read the small print on your current cell phone plan!

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