FTC drags AT&T to court over ‘deceptive and unfair’ throttling of unlimited data users

AT&T Chicago store (interior 001)

It’s sad that we’ve grown accustomed to greedy carriers and their unlimited data deals. Not only does unlimited service typically come with lots of strings attached, carriers have dumb excuses ready once folks realize their data speeds are being throttled.

Having decided not to let it slide, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is now taking AT&T to court over what it called “deceptive and unfair data throttling” policy.

As announced on Twitter and via a media release, the FTC’s federal court complaint alleges that the Dallas, Texas headquartered firm in some cases reduced data speeds for unlimited customers by up to 90 percent while failing to explain in clear and concise manner why and when throttling would take place.

“AT&T promised its customers ‘unlimited’ data,” reads the complaint, “and in many instances, it has failed to deliver on that promise”.

“The issue here is simple: ‘unlimited’ means unlimited,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. AT&T’s other sin: the company avoided mentioning throttling to customers who were about to renew their unlimited contracts.

AT&T’s marketing materials, the filing continues, emphasized the ‘unlimited’ amount of data that would be available to consumers who signed up for its unlimited plans.

And once unlimited consumers renewed their contracts, AT&T failed to as much as make a brief mention about data speed reduction, let alone inform customers of its throttling policy.

The carrier began throttling unlimited data customers back in 2011, in some cases after they used as little as 2 gigabytes of data in a billing period.

The “severe” throttling program reduced data speeds between 80 to 90 percent. The FTC claims that AT&T has thus far throttled at least 3.5 million unique customers a total of more than 25 million times.

And when people canceled their contracts after being throttled, AT&T charged them early termination fees, “which typically amount to hundreds of dollars,” the filing reads.

The carrier issued a statement in which it called the FTC’s allegations “baseless” and said it’s “baffling” as to why the FTC would choose to take this action against them.

AT&T, the statement insists, should be allowed to manage its network resources without being sued. AT&T approaches throttling in a way that’s “fully transparent” and ”consistent with the law” and its contracts, the statement reads.

“We have been completely transparent with customers since the very beginning,” says the carrier. “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”.

According to AT&T, its throttling program has affected only about three percent of its customers. And before any customer is affected, “they are also notified by text message”.

Be that as it may, changing the terms of customers’ unlimited data plans while people were still under contract is just plain wrong.

Are you glad that the FTC is taking AT&T to court over this?

[Twitter, FTC]