AT&T clarifies, defends 'throttling'

AT&T has adjusted its communications approach to address consumers' confusion about, and manage negative backlash from, its "throttling" policy.

AT&T has adjusted its communications approach to address consumers' confusion about, and manage negative backlash from, its “throttling” policy.

Skyrocketing demand for bandwidth and a shrinking amount of available high-quality spectrum are the driving forces behind unpopular measures taken by carriers such as AT&T. After the company's failed $39 billion bid for T-Mobile – reportedly an effort to acquire its competitor's spectrum – it began late last year to “throttle” phones without warning. The company would reduce the amount of bandwidth available to consumers on an unlimited data plan once they reached an arbitrary limit (reportedly about 2 GB), causing download times to drastically decrease and crippling streaming services.

The issue again received media attention last week when a disgruntled California-based consumer sued the carrier in small-claims court for throttling his phone despite his unlimited data plan. He was awarded $850, but AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said the company will appeal the judge's ruling.

AT&T currently forbids its users from filing a class-action lawsuit against the company.

Widespread public backlash then promoted AT&T to clarify its throttling methods and change its approach in communicating them to consumers.

The carrier began last month to alert consumers in the top 5% of bandwidth consumption via text message and email when they approached their limit, encouraging them to switch to a tiered data plan and use Wi-Fi as much as possible.

AT&T went further yesterday and clarified its throttling policy on its site, saying it would do so when a consumer reaches 3GB on a 3G device or 5GB on a mobile device connected through the faster LTE network “to help ensure the best possible mobile broadband experience for all of our customers.”

The page also defends AT&T's actions, saying data traffic for the carrier has increased a whopping 20,000% in the past five years, and touting the billions of dollars it has invested in improving its networks.

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