When AT&T first informed us that they would start deploying data speed throttling measures, the langauge in the press release appeared to target consumers that weren’t typical. The target were those rogue scoundrels who are streaming movies 24/7, those who take unlimited data entirely too literally. I get that unlimited doesn’t mean unlimited, although I’m sure I might get an argument from my grammar school teacher. That very carefully worded press release dropped in late July of last year continuously mentioned “the top 5 percent” as those who were in danger of throttling. This was pitched as helping out the greater smartphone community, those who are adversely affected by network congestion and slowdowns thanks to this data usage thugs. As typical smartphone customers, we have  AT&T to thank for coming to save the day. They were going to remove all the riff raff, so we can all get back to enjoying our data plans. Now with the data usage crack down underway, who exactly is this policy helping?

AT&T Data Throttling

One new measure is a step that may reduce the data throughput speed experienced by a very small minority of smartphone customers who are on unlimited plans – those whose extraordinary level of data usage puts them in the top 5 percent of our heaviest data users in a billing period.

AT&T reassured customers in this group were among a small minority. In fact, in a statement to the NY Times, AT&T claims that only 1% of customers are being affected by the policy.


To rank among the top 5 percent, you have to use an extraordinary amount of data in a single billing period.

Just last month, AT&T announced new data plans. The plans offered more data, albeit at a higher cost. Gone was the 2GB for $25 plan, replaced with a $30 for 3GB plan. That same $30 is the cost for the unlimited data plan that was previously offered.

unlimited definition

Our friend Seth Clifford’s wife apparently falls into that extrodinary data category, thanks in part to her enjoyment of Pandora. Barely eclipsing 2GB in a month, and paying $30 for unlimited data, you would think she was in the safe zone. She received a notice letting her know that she uses 12 times as much as the average smartphone user. That’s the first step taken before they force you into a new plan. For the same $30, AT&T will slot you into a 3GB plan.That’s 1GB more than where they started throttling.  If AT&T is selling 3GB plans, then surely more than 5% of customers utlize the data availalbe to them in those plans. Make sense, no? She’s not alone and some customers like John Cozen are getting the runaround once contacting AT&T. From the chain of emails, that might be the only thing more frustrating than actually having your data throttled.

Data throttling

By using percentages like “top 5%“, it eliminates the need for AT&T to get into specifics as to what constitutes abuse of their unlimited data plan. There have been a number of reports that consumers were receiving notices around the 2GB a month level. That means that regardless of paying for what equates to a 3GB plan, if you still fall in this “top 5 percentile” group in your geographical area, you could receive a notice. These notices are warnings. Keep it up and you’ll be forced to move to another plan. They might as well put an elbow to the back of your neck, push you up against the hood of a Chevy and force you to pick one of their new plans. The is big corporation thuggery at its best, masked by PR speak alledging it’s in the interest of the masses.

Now AT&T will gladly switch you to a 3GB plan for $30 per month and you won’t see any throttling.

If speed is more important, they may wish to switch to a tiered usage plan, where customers can pay for more data if they need it and will not see reduced speeds.

If you continue to pay $30 for unlimited, then you could receive notices once around the 2GB mark. Does it make sense? It does for AT&T. That’s where the rubber meets the road. They’d like to undue the very unlimited data plans they gleefully offered its customers when they first signed up for an iPhone. This is the only industry that seems to support seller’s remorse.