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AT&T Unlimited Data Plans About To Be Throttled

July 31, 2011

AT&T has announced plans to limit speeds for the heaviest users of their “unlimited” data smartphone plans later this year, various media outlets reported Friday.

According to AP Technology Writer Peter Svensson, the measure, also known as “throttling,” will go into effect on October 1 and will impact just five percent of the Dallas-based service provider’s customers.

AT&T, who last year stopped allowing new customers to sign up for unlimited service, is enacting the measure in order to alleviate network congestion, Svensson also reported.

“Like other wireless companies, we’re taking steps to manage exploding demand for mobile data,” AT&T announced in a statement posted to their website. “Many experts agree the country is facing a serious wireless spectrum crunch.  We’re responding on many levels, including investing billions in our wireless network this year and working to acquire additional network capacity. We’re also taking additional, more immediate measures to help address network congestion.”

The company reports that the effected customers use an average of 12 times more data than the company’s average customer, and that none of their 15 million customers who subscribe to tiered data plans will be affected by the new regulation. The company also promises that customers will receive multiple notices and a grace period before being hit with the service slowage.

“This change will never impact the vast majority of our customers, and is designed to create a better service experience for all,” company officials said, adding that to be among those affected, a smartphone owner would need to use “an extraordinary amount of data in a single billing period.”

“You can send or receive thousands of emails, surf thousands of Web pages and watch hours of streaming video every month and not be in the top 5 percent of data users,” they added.

Those who will feel the effects of throttling are those who stream “very large amounts of video and music daily over the wireless network, not Wi-Fi,” as well as those who frequently use remote web camera apps, send very large data files, and spend a lot of time playing select online games, AT&T says.

Once a user begins being throttled, they will continue experiencing lower speeds until the next billing period, even if they limit usage and fall out of the top 5 percent, Rik Myslewski of the Register reported on Friday.

“To address the capacity crunch, AT&T last year moved to a tiered pricing structure, which capped usage at 2 gigabytes of data,” CNET.com’s Roger Cheng said. “But customers who had an existing unlimited data offering were grandfathered in and kept their plans, meaning it still had a base of heavy users to contend with.”

Cheng also notes that the actions were taken “largely due to the changing way in which its customers used the iPhone. The bandwidth-intensive device clogged up the network and resulted in years of poor service, particularly in major markets such as New York and San Francisco.”

AT&T’s new policy, the CNET.com reporter points out, begins shortly after the next version of the Apple-branded smartphone is expected to become available to the public.

Many expect Verizon Wireless to eventually following down the same path and actively limit its customers,” Cheng said. “Sprint is the only major carrier to offer a truly unlimited plan, although it too has acknowledged that eventually the bandwidth demands will be too great to ignore.”

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