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Thursday, February 09, 2012, 02:27 pm PT (05:27 pm ET)

AT&T throttling unlimited data users starting at 2 GB per month based on location

The story of an AT&T customer having his bandwidth throttled after transferring only 2 GB of a so-called unlimited data plan has created a maelstrom of press, and has forced the company to detail exactly how it handles the increasingly overwhelming demand for data.

The number two U.S. mobile carrier announced in October, 2011 that it would reduce the connection speed of the "top 5 percent" of unlimited data users, though recent complaints reveal that throttling can begin after only 2 GB which is well under the 3 GB "limited" plan that carries the same monthly cost.

According to The New York Times, John Cozen was among the first to be throttled, or have his data speed limited until the next billing cycle, after using only 2.1 GB of data.

Cozen posted an email exchange with AT&T's customer service that claimed he was in the top five percent of heavy data users, and thus would be throttled as per the company's new guidelines. He goes on to say that the rule is unfair given that the cost for AT&T's unlimited data plan is equal to the $30 per month tiered plan customers pay for 3 GB of bandwidth.

AT&T's unlimited data plan is a relic from the launch of the first iPhone, and customers who took advantage of the premium service were grandfathered in when the company axed the option in 2010 as it moved to a completely tiered system.

AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said that, as of summer 2011, the top five percent of heaviest data users averaged 2 GB or more per month. He goes on to say that throttling is on a case-by-case basis, and that the limit varies on spectrum availability and data use from other customers.

Siegel's comments are echoed in an online support document on AT&T's website.

Data throttling


“There’s a very good chance you wouldn’t be slowed,” Siegel said, noting that less than one percent of customers were affected by the policy in January.