AT&T’s Data Throttling Threshold Is Based On Black Magic And Unicorns.

When AT&T announced that they were doing away with their unlimited plan back in the summer of 2010, it made us sad. Capped data just isn’t a good solution for customers. Some joy could be found, however, in the fact that unlimited data users could be grandfathered into the future with their free-for-all data plans after capped data plans took effect.

Fast forward a few months and then AT&T’s anti-consumer habits grew stronger; they started throttling customers on unlimited plans who were in the “top 5%” of data users on their network. Ok. Fair enough. How much is that? AT&T wouldn’t tell us. Eventually, AT&T relented that the throttling figure was a sliding number based on location and current network load at any given point in time — a very vague response that frankly gives them the ability to do whatever they want, when they want. Based off of numerous personal accounts on Twitter, Facebook, individual websites, forums, etc., the original throttling threshold was in the 4-5 GB range.

And now in early 2012 AT&T is once again taking another chance to screw us over by lowering the threshold for data throttling threshold further…
Take for example, this tweet by founder @Jeff148apps. According to Jeff, his wife received the dreaded throttling text message alerting her to “excessive” data usage. The damage: 1.1 GB. What’s even more ridiculous — As if calling 1.1 GB of data usage excessive wasn’t enough… — is that Jeff, who is on the same plan, is currently sitting at ~1.6 GB on the same unlimited data plan but has yet to receive any such message. So why the discrepancy? Easy. AT&T’s method of throttling makes sense on paper, but in the end it fails (and fails hard) because it isn’t logical on a broad scale, nor is it fair.

One month if you convinced your entire county to have an all-you-can-eat data freak fest, one might be able to push the throttling threshold up to 4, 5, or more gigabytes because, based on AT&T’s own explanations, data throttling is partially tied to how much the “average” is in a given area. But wait a minute. Throttling is also tied to available bandwidth. If you’ve got a few thousand people nom nomming through insane amounts of data, chances are AT&T’s going to blow up your information super highway and re-route you to an unpaved, single-lane bike path in terms of data speed. But what if the next month nobody touches their smartphone except you and the “average” becomes 50 MB. Now something as small as moderately intense (graphically speaking) iOS/Android game will blow you past the average for your locale and cause throtlled speeds to take affect. It’s a terrible system.

Of course, AT&T is contradicting themselves with each and every public announcement regarding throttling combined with altered data plans. AT&T’s statement: Our network is soooo crushed by data that we can’t possibly offer more data to users…we’re running out of spectrum…the world is ending for us. AT&T’s action: Hey everyone! We now have a higher tier data plan (2 GB -> 3 GB). While you do have to pay an extra $5/month for 3 GB of data vs. $25/month for the old 2 GB tier, it doesn’t add up on paper. If the number of people who were routinely exceeding 2 GB of data per month (and would therefore benefit from a 3 GB plan) were as low as AT&T claimed, they’re shooting themselves in the foot by only geting $5/month for that extra gig instead of the old overage fee of $10 for each additional gigabyte over 2 GB. They’re enticing people to use more data while simultaneously bitching about how terribly overcrowded their network is.

All that said, there’s absolutely no reason to be throttled under 5 GB on an unlimited data plan, even considering the unanimous move by carriers to put customers on tiered plans as well as never-ending tales of spectrum shortages. We’d wager that a decent number of AT&T customers left for Verizon when they first received the iPhone 4 (whom had unlimited data at the time, too), and more recently Sprint whom, you guessed it, had/still has unlimited data. To say the continuously dwindling number of unlimited data users on AT&T are putting more and more strain on their network is a blatant lie that no amount of number fudging can hide.

In the end, you the consumer can do nothing. AT&T is a mega-corporation with so much money wrapped up in D.C. lobbyists they’ll get anything (except a monopolistic merger) that they want. In this case, the data throttling policies being increasingly tweaked by AT&T which go against public statements are not based on lots of “research” as they claim, but something more random, more mysterious and as far from logic as one could comprehend.

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