AT&T loses data throttling case


How much ever we may hate it, data throttling is something nearly all of us have had to come to terms with over the past year or so. It is undoubtedly unfair: unlimited means unlimited, and as we are expected to comply with our contract for its duration, so should the company.

Unfortunately, real life isn’t that simple. Most carriers see the “fair usage” mumbo jumbo as a great way to increase their profits, have too much clout to allow us users to take them on in a fair fight, and anyway insert clauses in the contract (that they don’t adhere to themselves) forbidding users from consolidating their claims into a class action lawsuit or a jury trial.

But Matt Spaccarelli decided enough is enough, and took on AT&T for throttling down his iPhone. And in a judgement that reaffirms my faith in humanity, he was awarded $850. AT&T has some 17 million users on unlimited plans who can be subject to throttling.

You can get the details of the entire case over at Yahoo, but I’ll just paste some portions to help summarize it:

Late last year, AT&T started slowing down data service for the top 5 percent of its smartphone subscribers with “unlimited” plans. It had warned that it would start doing so, but many subscribers have been surprised by how little data use it takes for throttling to kick in — often less than AT&T provides to those on limited or “tiered” plans.

Spaccarelli said his phone is being throttled after he’s used 1.5 gigabytes to 2 gigabytes of data within a new billing cycle. Meanwhile, AT&T provides 3 gigabytes of data to subscribers on a tiered plan that costs the same — $30 per month.

Pro-tem Judge Russell Nadel found in favor of Spaccarelli inVentura Superior Court in Simi Valley on Friday, saying it wasn’t fair for the company to purposely slow down his iPhone, when it had sold him an “unlimited data” plan.

Nadel looked instead at the remaining 10 months in Spaccarelli’s two-year contract with AT&T and estimated that he might pay $85 a month on average for using additional data. AT&T charges $10 for every extra gigabyte over 3 gigabytes.

Nadel said it’s not fair for AT&T to make a promise to Spaccarelli when he buys the phone while burying terms in his contract that give the company the right to cut down data speeds.

Raveesh Bhalla

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  1. Fail

  2. Wait until AT&T appeals this case to more “reasonable” judges before you celebrate. On the surface, it doesn’t appear logical to appeal a $850 judgment, but failure to appeal this would set a legal precedent and possibly open the floodgates of litigation over throttling. Carriers see throttling as a way to bully those on unlimited data plans into switching to more profitable tiered plans, and will not likely take this judgment lying down. Besides, everyone who follows the news knows that most of the higher courts nationwide are filled with business-friendly judges.

    1. Well if AT&T did not make it clear at the beginning that hey throttle the speeds, this is a sort of a breach of contract, even though it’s in the small letters somewhere, courts are no longer letting companies go away with the small printing crap if it is something significant.

      Once a class actions starts AT&T is in trouble of course they will appeal this one. But I highly doubt they win, the new trend is to punish firms more that take advantage of their customers (since 2008, when banks sold mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them).

      1. Not a good comparison. The feds have forced banks to sell to people that could not afford them since clintion was in office.

        1. I always see the “people who can’t afford them” thing.. So what ?.  That is not the issue at all.. The real issue is the constant pump and dump “flipping” in the real estate market that has gone on for decades, and convincing people that a home was worth those outrageous prices.. A home has a value, and should be the safest gamble a bank can make to sell it to someone who can’t afford it.. you get your property back, and sell it to someone else.. It’s worth what you sold it for.. right ?… We can blame the government, but no one was forcing people to sell property for more than it was worth. 

  3. The wife and I are on a 5gb plan from Tmobile (after that, they throttle), I don’t think we’ve ever gone over.  But “unlimited” means “unlimited.”  I don’t think it’s unreasonable to throttle customers (particularly superusers) during periods of high traffic, but there’s no excuse for this.

  4. thats why i love sprint..

    1. Because you’re always being throttled with slow speeds?

  5. Sprint? I feel like my data is throttled after 1mb. I can’t wait for my contact to be up.

    1.  I tried out sprint when I had just left at&t after 3 years with them, lets just say I was back on at&t within a week. Maybe it was may area, but data was slooooooow.
      I finally ended up at vzw, the price isnt as nice but lemme tell ya, youll love the speed. come join us

  6. No kidding. Sprint doesn’t need to threaten or apply data throttling because it’s mobile network is inherently throttled.

  7. Anybody know what new carrier i should switch too?? Im on simple mobile, please for the love of god dont go here,!

  8. I have seen 30+gbs on my Verizon before and never been throttled. I do have an unlimited plan, and I don’t frequently go much over 4-5 gigs. Maybe that’s why I haven’t had any issues.

    1.  Verizon would have to go through a decent amount of legal red tape to throttle on their LTE network due to the conditions of the spectrum purchase as outlined by the FCC, now this isn’t to go saying that they can’t (they very well can) but it could end up being a liability to the company within a certain threshold

  9. I’m very happy with how much T-mo charges for their 5GB plan and although it’s not “technically” unlimited, I do like to know that I could go over and not expect any extra charges. Of course a TRULY unlimited plan would be the best option, but this is a close second for me. While they shouldn’t be marketing it as “unlimited”, IMHO, they should find a way of marketing what a good plan this actually is for most people.

  10. People that are on sprint its not the area its the joke network

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