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You! AT&T! The only thing 'unlimited' about you is your CHEEK, growl feds

Man, we did everything but knock on their doors - carrier

The US Federal Trade Commission has begun legal action against AT&T over its unlimited data plans, claiming the telco didn't tell customers that their data services would in fact be throttled.

The lawsuit claims that in 2007, AT&T started selling the iPhone with a $20 per month "unlimited" data plan. But by 2011, the demands on its data network were so great that the company started throttling users' data flows once they passed 2GB of data per month, and the FTC claims they didn't adequately inform customers of the change.

"The company has misled millions of mobile customers of unlimited data that in reality their plans were not unlimited at all," said FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez at a press call on Tuesday. "In some cases, customers had their feeds throttled by speeds of up to 90 per cent or more, making features like web browsing and content streaming virtually inoperable."

Evan Rose, staff attorney at the FTC, said that 3.5 million customers had their data deliberately slowed and as many as a quarter of AT&T's customers may have been throttled at some point. When customers tried to get out of the not-so-unlimited contracts, the FTC says they were hit with cancelation fees.

While almost all mobile telcos in the US throttle data past a certain point, the core of the FTC's complaint against AT&T is that customers weren't given enough information about the change in AT&T's throttling policy. But AT&T has strenuously denied the claims.

"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, and does it in a way that is fully transparent and consistent with the law and our contracts," said Wayne Watts, general counsel at AT&T.

"We have been completely transparent with customers since the very beginning. We informed all unlimited data-plan customers via bill notices and a national press release that resulted in nearly 2,000 news stories, well before the program was implemented. In addition, this program has affected only about 3 per cent of our customers, and before any customer is affected, they are also notified by text message."

Certainly The Register covered the announcement when it came out, as did most of the technology and general press. But FTC chairwoman Ramirez said that the information wasn't prominent on billing messages, although she declined to comment on text messages to customers.

She said that the FTC was now committed to going to court but would negotiate with AT&T should the firm so desire. Potentially, the agency could ask that "multiple millions of dollars" be returned to customers, she said. ®

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