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AT&T fined about 3 days of profit ($100m) for limiting 'unlimited' plans

Miss Bell vows to fight watchdog's tap on the wrist

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has fined AT&T $100m (£63m) after accusing it of unfairly limiting "unlimited" mobile data plans. The telco insists it has done nothing wrong.

The regulator said AT&T broke its Open Internet rules by deliberately slowing subscribers' download speeds when they went over their 3GB to 5GB monthly threshold.

AT&T violated the Open Internet Transparency Rule by failing to warn people when their mobile broadband would be strangled, and by how much data transmission speeds would be reduced, the FCC claims.

"Unlimited means unlimited,” said Travis LeBlanc, chairman of the FCC's enforcement bureau. "As today’s action demonstrates, the Commission is committed to holding accountable those broadband providers who fail to be fully transparent about data limits."

For AT&T, which made $3.2bn in net income last quarter or $1.48m an hour, the fine amounts to about 68 hours of profit.

The FCC has made a point of pursuing cases against carriers that advertise "unlimited" data plans only to throttle traffic speeds when users hit a data threshold. The commission extracted $40m in refunds from another carrier for the same practice.

AT&T said it would fight the charges. "We will vigorously dispute the FCC’s assertions," a spokesperson told The Reg. "The FCC has specifically identified this practice as a legitimate and reasonable way to manage network resources for the benefit of all customers, and has known for years that all of the major carriers use it."

AT&T has an ally on the FCC board. Commissioner Ajit Pai has taken issue with the regulator's stance.

"Because the commission simply ignores many of the disclosures AT&T made; because it refuses to grapple with the few disclosures it does acknowledge; because it essentially rewrites the transparency rule ex post by imposing specific requirements found nowhere in the 2010 Net Neutrality Order," Pai writes.

"Because it disregards specific language in that order and related precedents that condone AT&T’s conduct; because the penalty assessed is drawn out of thin air; in short, because the justice dispensed here condemns a private actor not only in innocence but also in ignorance, I dissent." ®

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