Since my USA Today column covered AT&T’s recent habit of throttling back the connections of unlimited-data subscribers judged to be in the top 5 percent of users in a given market, I’ve been hearing from readers subjected to this penalty. To judge from their input, you really don’t want to be among the 5 percent at that carrier.
Of the five people to report getting AT&T’s warning and then having their connection throttled, all said their downloads downshifted to 100 to 150 kilobits per second. (A sixth didn’t specify a number but also said the slowdown came without a warning.) That’s about the speed of AT&T’s decade-old GPRS data service, which was barely adequate for the WAP browsers of 2002.
The screenshots at right, showing the warning sent via text message and a post-throttling bandwidth test, come from Kevin Reifel of Williamstown, N.J.
Two of these readers cited monthly bandwidth usage above 5 gigabytes, fueled by the fast LTE service on their new Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket phones. Three iPhone users, however, reported bandwidth use below or barely above the 3-GB quota of AT&T’s current $30/month option.
Dave Spenik, of Walnut, Calif., said he also received warnings for hitting just 2.1 GB and change but avoided throttling those months–matching one of the first reports I got about this issue.
There was no real pattern to the locations of these reports, aside from them coming from outer suburbs of various metro areas (Washington, Philadelphia and Los Angeles).
But–you knew this was coming–these customers do share a pronounced unhappiness with AT&T. Gaithersburg, Md., resident David Rothfeld declared: “I will never go back to ATT again.” Wrote Spenik: “I plan to lodge complaints with the FCC, Calif State Attorney General, and Calif Public Utilities Commission, and am going to begin preparation to sue in Calif Small Claims Court.” Reifel: ”I would have more respect for ATT if they simply just advised all their current unlimited data users that the plan was going away and to please pick a new plan.”
(The company did that in 2010 when it terminated an unlimited plan for users of some data-only devices.)
It’s true that most users don’t come near 2 gigs a month. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus that I’ve been testing extensively shows only 866 megabytes used over the last three weeks, nowhere near Verizon’s monthly 2 GB quota. But at least that’s an obvious limit. I would not be comfortable worrying that crossing an undefined and changing threshold would get my smartphone kneecapped through the rest of the billing cycle.