If you’re one of the roughly 17 million people grandfathered into an unlimited data plan with AT&T, chances are you’re not too happy right now. For the past few months, AT&T has been throttling speeds of those among the “top 5%” of data users with an unlimited plan. Data throttling shouldn’t be a surprise, as AT&T announced it would do so months ago, but how the company is going about it is all sorts of wrong.
I have been an AT&T wireless customer since it was called Cingular, and signed up for an unlimited data plan with the launch of the iPhone 3G. As far as wireless carriers go, I have always been happy enough with AT&T’s customer service. Now after nearly a decade with the company, they are forcing me and many other customers into a difficult decision.
It started three months ago when I received a text message warning me of my “extreme” data use and if I did not stop, I would be subject to reduced speeds. I spend two hours a day on the train and regularly stream audio, so I wasn’t too surprised about the warning—until I checked my data usage.
With 5 days left in my billing cycle I had only consumed 1.8GB of data. The next day 3G connectivity on my Motorola Atrix was completely unusable. A quick speed check showed that I was only getting .13 Mbps download speed. On a good day, this is double the speed of a dial-up modem.
Considering AT&T’s $30 data plan (the same price as unlimited) allots you 3GB of data, I was shocked that the company considered my usage extreme. After getting the runaround from customer service, I was finally told that unlimited data plans are subject to being throttled after 2GB of use. The only way to prevent this from happening is to not hit the 2GB plateau, or switch to a tiered data plan.
After wasting my breath arguing that 2GB of data could not possibly be extreme use, I was told that if AT&T did not meet my needs, I should switch carriers. Perhaps this was just a disgruntled employee who didn’t know how to address a seemingly logical argument.
As it turns out, AT&T is picking and choosing which users to throttle based on how congested the network is in your area. This means for anyone with an unlimited data plan in a metropolitan area, you’re basically relegated to 2GB of usage.
Okay, so quit complaining and switch to a tiered data plan. You can’t expect the data buffet to last forever. I get that. But pushing users toward tiered data plans by screwing around with their connectivity is a better way to lose monthly payments than ease up a congested network.
For many people, an unlimited data plan was the only reason to stay with AT&T. The company’s tiered data plans make little to no sense. Here’s what AT&T is currently offering:
Looking at this chart makes one believe that AT&T put little to no thought into its revolutionary new tiered data plans. AT&T says that for most people, 1GB of data usage is enough, with the magic number falling around the 2GB a month limit. It’s not much of a tiered system when you go from 300MB to 3GB of data as your cheapest options. Who are they tricking into the 300MB data plan? It costs $10 more for 10 times less data than the next tier. What’s worse is that overage charges for the 300MB plan are double that of the other plans, for one-third of the amount of data being used.
I will mostly suck it up and switch over to the 3GB plan and steadfastly monitor my data use. But if AT&T considers 2GB of data “excessive use” how can switching to a 3GB plan offer any sort of network relief? And if tiered data plans are the future of wireless bills, why not create a tiered system that makes sense for the majority of its users? Until then, those of us with grandfathered data plans are going to have to make a serious decision.