Via AP: When smartphones first came on the market, telephone companies offered “unlimited” data plans cheaply in an effort to attract users. Back then, there were so few smartphones, and even fewer users who used more than a couple of gigabytes of data, that advertising these unlimited plans would mean a great many people would buy them without using much data at all. As smartphones became more ubiquitous and easier-to-use, though, the number of heavy users on unlimited plans rose to the point where they outnumbered regular users, and it was no longer profitable to sustain truly unlimited use. Then, AT&T did something incredibly boneheaded: they started capping data use for certain unlimited plans. In a textbook “do not do this” move, AT&T throttled the service for the top 5% of users, or slowed it down until phones were rendered nearly useless for anything other than calls and texts. This varied by area, too. The top 5% in New York City would be using a vastly different amount of data than the top 5% in Middle-of-Nowhere, Kansas. Many customers subsequently sued AT&T for false advertising. Rightfully so, because I can’t imagine “unlimited” to mean anything other than “not limited at all”. AT&T has since announced that it will be throttling data at 3GBs/month for all unlimited users, not just the top 5%, which brought up yet another problem: limited users pay $30/month for 3GB of data, the same as so-called “unlimited” plans. All in all, AT&T’s handling of the affair has been a major clusterwhoops.
What does a company typically try to do during such a monumentally disastrous series of events? Settle as quickly and quietly as possible so that it all goes away. Which is exactly what AT&T is attempting to do. Though, not surprisingly considering the general trend of the ordeal, this has not gone so well for them. A customer named Matthew Spaccarelli, who recently won $850 in small claims court, was approached by AT&T to sit down and talk about a settlement, so long as he didn’t mention that they wanted to settle. He did nothing of the sort. The judge in that case agreed that AT&T had broken its promise to “unlimited service”, despite the fact that Spaccarelli was using the phone to “tether” a second device to the network, which is against the data plan’s terms of service. Spaccarelli also posted online documents detailing how he won his small claims case, encouraging others to do the same. If he’d settled with AT&T, he’d most likely need to take those down, never talk of the settlement, and the news world would move on. Spaccarelli noted that, despite using his service in an unauthorized way, he’d rather go to court.
This is turning into a much bigger news story than AT&T would have hoped. I have a feeling that this is not the last we’ll hear of AT&T phone throttling settlements.
- A Mashable article on some technology that could avert data throttling.
- NYT Blog article on how to mind your data usage.
- Not surprisingly, AT&T is appealing Saccarelli’s $850 ruling, which I’m sure will go as well as the rest of their situation.