What Does Unlimited Mean to AT&T?

February 5, 2012

Written by wukovits

I use my cell phone a heck of a lot.  I used to be a Sprint customer, but after some issues with their lack of 3G support in the Lake Charles area, I switched to AT&T a couple of years ago.  When I joined AT&T, I started out with an iPhone, and I opted for unlimited minutes, text, and I added the unlimited data plan for $30 a month.  I did so because I knew I would be a heavy phone user and having no such restrictions would be one less headache.

As time went on, AT&T stopped offering this unlimited data plan and started up other tiered options that weren’t unlimited, but do give a decent amount of data usage.  Recently, they offered a 3GB per month plan for $30, the same amount I pay for my unlimited data.  Thankfully, I haven’t had to worry about changing plans, because AT&T allows their customers who are “grandfathered” in with this unlimited data plan to keep it when they get a new phone, like the iPhone 4s I got back in October.

A few months ago, AT&T announced that they would start “throttling” their unlimited customers that are in the top 5% of data users.  Apparently there were people using over 10GB per month on their unlimited data plan, which seems to be taxing the AT&T network.  10GB seems pretty excessive, but then again, being on an unlimited data plan, you wouldn’t think there would be any limits.  Users that are classified as being in this top 5% are notified via text message that they have qualified for this dubious honor and their data speeds are drastically reduced, or “throttled”.  Now it appears that AT&T is tightening the noose even more.

Most recently, a blogger named John Cozen was unhappy to report that he received such a text message the moment he exceeded 2GB of data usage.  That’s right, 2GB of data usage now qualifies someone as being in the top 5% of data users on the AT&T network.  When he inquired to AT&T via email about this predicament, he was led down a harrowing path of lackluster customer support, unkept promises for returned phone calls, and ultimately no satisfaction.  However, at every turn, AT&T did manage to offer that he move to a tiered data plan.  This bodes ill for users like John Cozen and myself, who are “grandfathered” into an unlimited data plan, but may now face suspicious practices to force us into a plan that limits our data consumption.  Basically, AT&T is breaking their agreement with their customers.

The thing that really irks me on John Cozen’s situation, and potentially any other unlimited data user, is that being heaped into the top 5% of data users after passing the 2GB mark screams false.  AT&T offers a 3GB plan for $30.  So now, unlimited users that are 1GB beneath the 3GB point are somehow lumped into this 5% group?  I’d love to see the math on this one.  Yes, one could switch to this 3GB tiered plan, but to me, at least, this is about the principle.  AT&T should honor their agreements they made with their customers.  It is one thing to curtail heavy data users, but this new margin they seem to be establishing doesn’t add up, even when compared to their own tiered data plans.  To make matters worse, they even have a 5GB plan for $50 a month, but somehow, going over 2GB of data usage now ranks as being a top 5% user?

I don’t use a lot of data on my phone.  I rarely, if ever, cross the 2GB barrier.  However, the reason I got an unlimited data plan was in case I ever needed to, I wouldn’t have any overage charges or problems.  It seems that AT&T doesn’t care about honoring agreements and cares more about squeezing as much money as possible from their customers.

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