AT&T changes data throttling policy for customers on unlimited plans, will only throttle when network is congested

AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) changed its data throttling policy, and will throttle the data speeds of customers on legacy unlimited data plans only when they are connected to congested cell sites, regardless of the kind of smartphone they have.

The carrier quietly changed its policy yesterday. Before, customers who had 3G or HSPA+ phones as well as legacy unlimited data plans were throttled for the remainder of their billing period after they exceeded 3 GB of data in a month, but only "at times and in areas that are experiencing network congestion." However, while LTE customers with grandfathered unlimited plans did not see their speeds throttled until they reached 5 GB of data usage in a month, their speeds were slowed down for the remainder of their billing cycle at all times--regardless of whether the network was congested.

That discrepancy is now no longer the case. The new policy was first spotted by Ars Technica. "As a result of AT&T's network management process, customers on a 3G or 4G smartphone or on a 4G LTE smartphone with an unlimited data plan who have exceeded 3 gigabytes (3G/4G) or 5 gigabytes (4G LTE) of data in a billing period may experience reduced speeds when using data services at times and in areas that are experiencing network congestion," the new policy states. "All such customers can still use unlimited data without incurring overage charges, and their speeds will be restored with the start of the next billing cycle."

An AT&T spokesman confirmed the changes. "Customers on an unlimited legacy data plan may experience reduced speeds only when using data services at times when in an area where the network is experiencing congestion," AT&T said in a statement to FierceWireless. "Like other wireless companies, we manage our network resources to provide the best service possible for all of our customers."

The FCC has reportedly been looking into AT&T's throttling policies and might levy a fine against the carrier. In October, the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against AT&T, alleging that the carrier misled as many as 3.5 million customers with legacy unlimited data plans by throttling their data speeds and changing the terms of their plans. The heart of the complaint is that AT&T failed to adequately disclose its throttling policy. AT&T has said the FTC's lawsuit does not have any merit.

There are not many customers who still have legacy unlimited data plans from AT&T. The carrier said that at the end of the first quarter around 87 percent of its postpaid smartphone subscribers were on usage-based data plans (tiered data plans, Mobile Share and other plans).

For more:
- see this Ars Technica article
- see this PhoneScoop article

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