There was no press release. No fan fare. No trash talking. AT&T just posted a simple announcement on its Web site. Nevertheless, it’s big news for many AT&T wireless consumers who have an unlimited data plan: You can now use 22 GB of high-speed data during a billing period before becoming subject to network management practices, particularly throttling.
The move comes after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) slapped AT&T with a $100 million fine in June for misleading customers by promoting "unlimited" data plans that were actually throttled after certain usage limits were hit. The fine stems from a lawsuit the FTC filed against AT&T for this issue in 2014.
“As always, Unlimited Data Plan smartphone customers will still have the comfort of knowing that, no matter how much data they use in a billing cycle, they will continue to pay a single monthly flat rate,” AT&T said. “That is the essential promise of the Unlimited Data Plan, and we are pleased to continue honoring that promise.”
How It Really Works
AT&T also promised that speed reductions would only occur if you use your device at times and in areas with network congestion -- and only for the rest of the current billing cycle after you pass the 22 GB data threshold. Previously, AT&T began throttling users with unlimited data plans at 5 GB in congested areas.
You will get notified during each billing cycle if your data usage reaches the 16.5 GB mark, that’s 75 percent of 22 GB. That gives you time to adjust your usage to avoid throttling, which could cause Web sites to load more slowly or impact the performance of video streaming and interactive games. The impact will depend on how much congestion is in your area at the time.
“Because the amount of congestion at a cell site can vary significantly, the performance impact for affected unlimited data plan customers may also vary significantly,” AT&T said. “Standard speeds and latency will resume once the cell site is no longer congested, or the customer's data session moves to an uncongested cell site. In addition, speeds and latency will return to normal at the start of the customer's next billing cycle.”
Customers Will Love It
We turned to Jeff Kagan, an independent telecom analyst in Atlanta, to get his thoughts on the plan change. He told us it’s “very fair” and will benefit both the user and AT&T mobility.
“Customers using excessive amounts of data impact the user experience for everyone. No carrier has the ability to deliver unlimited amounts of high-speed data today,” Kagan said. “However, customers are using more wireless data services every quarter. This puts carriers in a very difficult position trying to keep everyone happy with limited resources.”
Kogan said the 22 GB limit marks a huge increase in the amount of wireless data AT&T customers will get -- and he is convinced AT&T customers will absolutely love this new limit.
“Every once in a while every carrier must re-evaluate what they offer their customers. Every once in a while every carrier must increase the speed and the data the customers can use in their buckets,” Kagan said. “That's what this is. AT&T is usually among the first to offer customers more. That's what keeps them so competitive. Every other wireless carrier will follow suit. That's just what the industry does.”