I recently renewed my AT&T contract, and it was a big mistake. Sure, the company gave me a little discount on a new iPhone that I very much enjoy. However, we also know AT&T gives millions of customers a bullshit deal when it sells them “unlimited” data service but later throttles that data to an extreme degree. That’s the worst!

You’ve probably heard about this duplicitous practice recently. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) just slapped AT&T with a $100 million fine for throttling unlimited customers’ data service. AT&T gives you a certain amount of data at normal speeds and then slows those speeds to a crawl. It used to happen after you hit a certain data cap, but last year, AT&T changed the policy so that data gets throttled when the network is congested. AT&T has failed to explain what “congested” actually means. The throttling is real, though. One Gizmodo reader reported regular speeds of 22-Megabits-per-second that dropped to an unusable 0.36 Mbps after the throttling took effect.

AT&T thinks everyone is over reacting. Customers agreed to get throttled so they shouldn’t complain when they can’t use the phone service they paid for. More on this in a second.

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This isn’t a rumor, either. I’ve heard from many people who’ve reported the problem and have even seen speed tests. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) actually sued AT&T last year over these deceptive throttling practices. FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez said at the time, “The issue is simple: Unlimited means unlimited.”

In other words, AT&T promises its customers one thing and then fails to deliver on that promise. The FTC says AT&T is breaking the law by engaging in “unfair or deceptive acts or practices.” The FCC now says that AT&T customers are being “deceived by misleading marketing materials and insufficient disclosure.” If you pay for unlimited service on AT&T, you probably believed that you’d enjoy “the nation’s strongest LTE signal” as long as you keep paying your bill. But somewhere buried in the fine print of that very long contract that you just signed—and I just signed again—there’s a detail about “reduced speeds.” There are more details buried in this already buried support article on AT&T’s website.

Obviously AT&T thinks this is sufficient, which is why it’s pushing back against both the FTC and the FCC. (That $100 million fine is one of the highest fines the agency has ever doled out.) In a statement, AT&T reacted to the FCC’s fine soberly:

The FCC has specifically identified this [throttling] practice as a legitimate and reasonable way to manage network resources for the benefit of all customers… We have been fully transparent with our customers…

...reflecting AT&T’s dismay in its reaction to the FTC’s lawsuit last year:

It’s baffling as to why the FTC would choose to take this action against a company that, like all major wireless providers, manages its network resources to provide the best possible service to all customers…

So misleading some customers for the good of all is the best possible thing that AT&T could do? This isn’t some communist utopia. This is America. There are rules.

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If you’re a wireless carrier, and you tell your customers that they will get unlimited data service if they pay their bill, they should get unlimited data service. Unlimited does not mean a limited amount until you decide that they’ve had enough fast speeds or until you decide that the network is too crowded. Not to be repetitive, but “unlimited” means unlimited.

I regret renewing my AT&T contract, so much so that I might have to break it. And I don’t even have unlimited service! AT&T and other companies that insist they’re doing the right thing after millions of customers have complained and multiple government agencies have intervened will only respond to one thing—a swift blow to the pocketbook. Hopefully these fines will finally be enough for them to get the point.

Our internet’s shitty and slow enough. We don’t need more greedy telecom companies making things worse.


Contact the author at adam@gizmodo.com.
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