AT&T’s stance on unlimited data is once again in the spotlight as a new wave of smartphone users cry foul over the carrier’s questionable policies. The nation’s No.2 carrier does not currently offer an unlimited data plan to its smartphone subscribers. Instead, there are three available data plans that include “soft” caps, allowing subscribers to continue using data services for additional fees after the soft cap is reached in a billing period. Users who have been with AT&T since before the carrier switched to tiered data plans — loyal customers who have in some cases maintained the same account in good standing for more than a decade — had the option to retain their unlimited data plans when AT&T first made the move to tiered plans. While heavy users were initially relieved when the opportunity to retain their old unlimited plans presented itself, that relief has quickly turned to disdain.
AT&T announced last summer that it planned to throttle unlimited smartphone data users beginning in October. The carrier said that the move would only affect the top 5% of heavy users, and it was a necessary measure in order to “manage exploding demand for mobile data.” The new policy meant that unlimited data users could continue using their handsets without data limits, but heavy users would see their data speeds reduced at a certain point each month if they used too much data. AT&T took particular care in not setting a specific limit that would have to be reached before throttling kicked in, but most typical users presumed it would be a number they would never hit.