With FTC suit looming, AT&T backs off on throttling 'unlimited' data plans

Because it wants to, of course. Not because they told it to

AT&T has apparently had a rethink regarding its policy of limiting data transfer speeds for heavy users who subscribe to its so-called unlimited data plans.

The US telco giant now says it will only throttle mobile data gluttons when they are in areas with heavy traffic.

The reworded policy, which AT&T customers first began noticing on Wednesday, reads as follows:

As a result of the AT&T network management process, customers on a 3G or 4G smartphone with an unlimited data plan who have exceeded 3 gigabytes of data in a billing period may experience reduced speeds when using data services at times and in areas that are experiencing network congestion.

Previously, any customer who exceeded the 3GB mark would have their data throughput automatically throttled, no matter where they were. That can still happen, but under the reworked policy the blanket throttling will only happen to customers on unlimited data plans if they have 4G LTE devices and they download more than 5GB in a given 31-day billing cycle.

The changes come at a tricky time for AT&T. The carrier faces a lawsuit from the FTC over its past handling of heavy data users on unlimited plans, on allegations that it failed to properly disclose its throttling policies to consumers and that the throttling itself constituted an "unfair act or practice" under the law.

AT&T, on the other hand, has argued that not throttling data speeds for bandwidth hogs would result in slower download speeds for all customers (and to be fair, other telcos have made the same case).

Should the FTC prevail, AT&T could face heavy fines for its throttling policies. More to the point, the court might also slap it with a permanent injunction preventing it from doing the same in future, which should be enough to give the other Big Four telcos pause, too. ®

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