Confirmed: AT&T Will Begin Throttling Unlimited Data Plans


Earlier today we reported that AT&T may begin throttling data usage for the 5 percent of users consuming the most bandwidth, and as the business day begins winding down we now have confirmation straight from the horse’s mouth. Starting October 1st, those using the most bandwidth within any given billing cycle will see their data speeds throttled back, with normal speeds restored once a new billing period begins. AT&T says the new policy is necessary in the face of a “serious wireless spectrum crunch.” The move will provide minimal relief in the short term. AT&T’s proposed long-term solution? The completion of their merger with T-Mobile.

An Update for Our Smartphone Customers With Unlimited Data Plans

Like other wireless companies, we’re taking steps to manage exploding demand for mobile data. 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.

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. In fact, these customers on average use 12 times more data than the average of all other smartphone data customers. This step will not apply to our 15 million smartphone customers on a tiered data plan or the vast majority of smartphone customers who still have unlimited data plans.

Starting October 1, smartphone customers with unlimited data plans may experience reduced speeds once their usage in a billing cycle reaches the level that puts them among the top 5 percent of heaviest data users. These customers can still use unlimited data and their speeds will be restored with the start of the next billing cycle. Before you are affected, we will provide multiple notices, including a grace period.

This change will never impact the vast majority of our customers, and is designed to create a better service experience for all.

The amount of data usage of our top 5 percent of heaviest users varies from month to month, based on the usage of others and the ever-increasing demand for mobile broadband services. To rank among the top 5 percent, you have to use an extraordinary amount of data in a single billing period.

There will be no changes for the vast majority of customers. It’s not how much time you spend using your device, it’s what you do with it. 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.

Typically what puts someone in the top 5 percent is streaming very large amounts of video and music daily over the wireless network, not Wi-Fi. Streaming video apps, remote web camera apps, sending large data files (like video) and some online gaming are examples of applications that can use data quickly. Using Wi-Fi doesn’t create wireless network congestion or count toward your wireless data usage. AT&T smartphone customers have unlimited access to our entire Wi-Fi network, with more than 26,000 hotspots, at no additional cost. They can also use Wi-Fi at home and in the office.

The bottom line is our customers have options. They can choose to stay on their unlimited plans and use unlimited amounts of data, but may experience reduced speeds at some point if they are an extraordinarily heavy data user. 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.

But even as we pursue this additional measure, it will not solve our spectrum shortage and network capacity issues. Nothing short of completing the T-Mobile merger will provide additional spectrum capacity to address these near term challenges.

Kevin Krause
Pretty soon you'll know a lot about Kevin because his biography will actually be filled in!

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  1. TechCrunch has an article today expounding on the generously reduced cost-of-data service TO the wireless providers & the amazing PR games they engage in to convince (lie) to the public that their wireless pipes are just overcrowded & they need to charge more. In reality their P&L from data usage is increasing in profit considerably (just look at their recent quarterly #s) while customers are paying more & more for services that have plenty of capacity.

    This reaks of the same BS.

  2. Throttling AND Data Caps! Now we’re talking!! (AT&T, You really suck @ss) And, If I were a T-Mo customer, I’d really be starting to worry now.

    1. If I were a T-Mobile customer, I wouldn’t be worrying, I’d be packing up my things and heading to Sprint.

      1. How long do you think Sprint will be able to not throttle? I expect all carriers to throttle. I hope once they do, then they will allow tethering by default like they should have been all along.

        Yeah, my T-Mobile contract is up and it really is a hard pick between T-Mobile and Sprint but I think Sprint is a bit ahead now.

        I really wanted the Samsung Galaxy S 2, but now i’m considering holding out for the Nexus Prime…sigh, the endless waiting game…

  3. how much data is considered to much a month? 1Gig?

    1. An infinitely small amount.

  4. That would be a neat trick considering that if AT&T were really going to uphold existing T-mobile contracts and all. I mean, I’ve been with magenta since the Voicestream era, and on a purely unrestricted data plan since the G1. I really wish they would pull that shit. Hopefully by then Sprint will have their network together to make my jump seamless.

  5. ATT Uverse has data caps too. They r swindlers

  6. I think this is an unfair move on AT&T’s part. Sure, i can understand some throttling to those who use an insane amount of data, however they are going about it all wrong. It’s not right to say the top 5% will be throttled. What if the top 5% didn’t even break 5GB? or 2GB for that matter? Setting the throttle limit at the top 5% is going to lead them to a dispute in court, whereas setting the limit in amount of data used will give the users at least some headsup of what the limit is,.

  7. All the more reason to Give AT&T the BOOT!

  8. Rockin the og mytouch without much throttling problems so i didnt see didnt see throttling of much of an issue but this is getting really out of hand. I dont think at&t has any spectrum problems. What better way to get what they want(t-mobile) then by proving why they need them. Theyre just gathering ammo against lawyers to get the merger.

  9. I don’t recall paying or signing up for a kinda-sorta-insert-stipulation-here unlimited data plan. How very odd…

  10. Is anyone really still on AT&T? Their network is crap.

  11. wasnt ATT bitching saying they were the only ones who DIDNT cap your shit? how they were truly unlimited and all that. had that old ass mofo Hesse on the tv.

    1. Is this a serious comment? No, you can’t be that oblivious to the different carriers. Maybe, just maybe Hesse is the CEO of Sprint and maybe those commercials were also related to Sprint. But you knew that, didn’t you? You were just messing with the rest of us…

      1. Hesse used to be the CEO of AT&T so this guy is just behind the times, by about 15 years.

  12. I dont have unlimited data plans so where that leaves me

    1. You’re joking right? Did you actually read the article….?

  13. Phandroid – can you guys talk with AT&T and see if this policy is going to vanish when the merger goes through?

  14. Predicted this awhile back, unlimited will be gone soon, for all carriers. Spotify, Google music, Amazon cloud and Apple cloud, pandora, last fm et all will not be an option

  15. I’m not worried about any speed cap at all from AT&T. My connectivity is already that slow that any cap don’t even matter anymore. Just patiently sitting out my prison (contract) term.


    1. Well…that’s mature and eloquent.

      1. Mature and eloquent?! You must be new. I wouldn’t expect maturity, eloquence, punctuation, or any semblance of objectivity. This is Phandroid, not a professional news site.
        That was the funniest thing I’ve read all week.

  17. Earlier this month, AT&T talked about how 49.9% of its customers now had smartphones. So that top 5% of all users is actually the top 10% of data users. It’s probably a safe bet that 10% of AT&T’s data users is pretty close to the number of unlimited data accounts there are left.

  18. it’s absurd the games and bullshit they play, this is all just a ploy, they are doing this to make people feel like data actually has value, when in reality it is dirt cheap, it costs them NOTHING, they are trying to convince us, there is an actual problem when there is none, so we will happily pay more for data because it’s needed to “upgrade their satellites”… they pray on ignorance :(

  19. I wish T-mobile would adopt this strategy and not set an actual limit, I am on a grandfathered 5gb plan and I hit it a couple days ago by just normal youtube, browsing, & netflix (Im sure the biggest culprit)

    I don’t understand how carriers & app developers & Google themselves offer all these streaming options but we are constrained under data caps making it impossible to get a full months use of them.

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