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Carrier throttles data for users who exceed 5 GB or 10 GB of usage

While AT&T has done away with no-limit data plans in favor of tiered, capped plans (with Verizon expected to follow suit shortly), T-Mobile has continued to offer its customers unlimited* data services on all of its devices, including bandwidth-gulping smartphones.

Except there's a catch. Here it is, buried in fine print in T-Mobile's terms and services:

To provide the best network experience for all of our customers we may temporarily reduce data throughput for a small fraction of customers who use a disproportionate amount of bandwidth. Your data session, plan, or service may be suspended, terminated, or restricted for significant roaming or if you use your service in a way that interferes with our network or ability to provide quality service to other users.

And there is no asterisk next to "unlimited" on any of T-Mobile's merchandising. If you don't read all of the fine print, or a forthcoming sales rep doesn't warn you of the carrier's ability to throttle your data speeds as it sees fit, then you're stuck finding out the hard way, like one Trent Alvarez.

Alvarez has filed a class-action lawsuit in California against the nation's fourth-largest carrier, alleging he was misled by a T-Mobile sales representative to believe that the service plan he was signing up for truly was unlimited, ConsumerAffairs reports. Alvarez purchased two smartphones last year under two-year contract agreements. In May, he received this text message from T-Mobile:

Your data usage in this billing cycle has exceeded 10GB; Data throughput [speed] for the remainder of the cycle may be reduced to 50kbps or less.

Alvarez is alleging that the throttling renders the phones "essentially useless for anything other than making or receiving phone calls and text messages.”

The lawsuit demands an injunction that would prevent T-Mobile from advertising its plans as "unlimited," as well as restitution for the cost the class spent on smartphones.

The suit is similar to one brought against Verizon in 2007 by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who alleged invisible limits on what was marketed as "unlimited data." Verizon settled that lawsuit for $1 million.

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Why lie?
By Pjotr on 8/11/2010 8:54:07 AM , Rating: 5
In Sweden you simply buy 200MB package, 1GB package or 5GB packages per month. The subscription clearly states that if you exceed the limit, speed is slowed. You get an SMS at 90% usage that you are close and another when you hit the limit. You can reply to the SMS to purchase another set of 200MB/1GB/5GB at the same price as the monthly cost to continue surfing at full speed.

Why does the operators in the US feel they can't explain such a simple scheme to the customer and instead have to LIE about "unlimited" data plans?

RE: Why lie?
By fleshconsumed on 8/11/2010 8:59:24 AM , Rating: 5
Lack of consumer protection, lack of competition, uninformed gullible consumer willing to eat everything Telco would tell is good for him.

RE: Why lie?
By Goty on 8/11/10, Rating: -1
RE: Why lie?
By quiksilvr on 8/11/2010 9:29:06 AM , Rating: 5
It should be illegal for ANY company to say unlimited and not mean it. Screw the asterisk, its either unlimited or its not.

That's like saying "All You Can Eat!" and a little asterisk saying: limit 1 lb per customer.

RE: Why lie?
By Goty on 8/11/2010 9:40:30 AM , Rating: 5
If I'm not mistaken, his contract IS still "unlimited". He's still at the buffet, he's just got a really small spoon.

RE: Why lie?
By xsilver on 8/11/2010 10:08:42 AM , Rating: 1
Now I think all the guy really wants is a similar payout to the 1 million dollars that verizon gave out.

yee hah - when you can get paid to find stupid wordings in contracts

RE: Why lie?
By eskimospy on 8/11/2010 11:13:25 AM , Rating: 5
How on earth is it a 'stupid word in a contract'. So basically under your reasoning Verizon or whoever you have could limit the data on your smartphone plan to 1kbps today if they felt like it and still be in compliance with your contract? Do you actually believe that?

You know as well as I do that T-Mobile advertises their data plans as having unlimited data at 3G speeds. They are materially misrepresenting the nature of the service they provide, and they are doing so for their own benefit. If they don't want to provide unlimited data at that speed that's their business, but there is not one piece of literature that I am aware of that makes a customer aware of this limitation.

Secret terms and conditions like these are an impediment to commerce, in the end they hurt both customers and business.

RE: Why lie?
By xsilver on 8/11/2010 3:49:28 PM , Rating: 2
well if you understood the post above mine, you would understand that it is still "unlimited" data - they're just feeding it to you through a straw.

I agree with you that they should stipulate that any use over 10gb = shaping but from t-mobile's pov they are just trying to ease network congestion because if everybody is downloading to the max you wont even be able to make a phone call. If the network is congested and speeds slow down are people still going to complain that they cant get "unlimited" 7mpbs bandwidth?

Anyways my original point was that I dont believe for a second that this guy wants anything less than the 1 million dollars that was paid via the verizon lawsuit.

RE: Why lie?
By eskimospy on 8/11/2010 10:44:36 PM , Rating: 2
I understood it perfectly. T-Mobile has decreased it to 50kbps according to the article, such a slow speed as to be basically unusable for modern web traffic. Reducing a connection to an unusable level while still technically maintaining one does not even remotely cover what would be considered 'unlimited' service by any reasonable person.

I see many comments in this thread about how people should read the fine print on everything they sign. If people in the US actually did that, commerce would grind to a halt. That's without even addressing the fact that in many cases large sections of the fine print for agreements that you sign that are not legally enforceable.

Whether the guy wants money or not is irrelevant. The only question is if T-Mobile is falsely advertising.

RE: Why lie?
By marvdmartian on 8/11/2010 10:17:51 AM , Rating: 3
I'd say it's not only a really small spoon, but also Hulk Hogan grabbing him by the wrist, and trying to keep that spoon from getting from the plate to his mouth.

RE: Why lie?
By eskimospy on 8/11/2010 11:03:20 AM , Rating: 2
The argument you're trying to use is the telcom equivalent of when a big brother grabs their younger brother's hand and starts hitting them with it, all the while saying 'why are you punching yourself? huh?! why are you punching yourself?!' It's technically true that in that circumstance you still have unlimited data, but then again it's also true that the kid is punching himself.

Slowing the connection down that far basically does make it unusable; it doesn't count if you can't use it. Even if the judge does side with T-Mobile there's almost no chance that he's going to do so for the reason you mentioned.

RE: Why lie?
By HotFoot on 8/11/2010 11:13:48 AM , Rating: 2
Fair enough - the data plan is indeed limited, so "unlimited" probably isn't a good name. I'm with a different carrier, and I pay $35/mo for a similarly "unlimited" plan. It was very clearly spelled out to me, when I signed up, that there was no data cap, but if I were to exceed 5 GB in any month the bandwidth would be reduced for the duration of that billing period.

To me, this means that it's basically a 5 GB/mo plan, but I also know that even if I do go over, I'm never paying more than $35/mo. Considering what these companies usually charge for overages, I like the arrangement.

What it does mean, practically, is that I can't just tether my phone all the time and forgo the cable internet I use at home. Heck just downloading SC2 would have destroyed my 3G data usage for the rest of the month. Still, 5 GB covers quite a bit of Skype, maps and Youtube.

RE: Why lie?
By eskimospy on 8/11/2010 1:32:41 PM , Rating: 2
I think we agree, all I want is for T-Mobile to be upfront with their customers and have a way for the average customer of theirs to understand the limitations on their service. After that, throttle away!

I'm not sure if Sprint has a data cap (although I wouldn't be surprised if they did), but I never go above a few hundred MB's a month so it's irrelevant for my purposes. This is more just setting off my deceptive advertising alarm, and that sort of thing pisses me off.

RE: Why lie?
By ebakke on 8/11/2010 1:59:20 PM , Rating: 1
Hmm. Can you define what you think would qualify for "being up front"? To me, clearly stating it in the TOS is sufficient. Furthermore, none of their literature guarantees any data rate. In fact, most of it does the opposite and explicitly states that no guarantees are made.

RE: Why lie?
By Alexstarfire on 8/11/2010 5:16:59 PM , Rating: 2
You mean the ToS that almost no one reads? Yes, reading contracts is something people should do, but I (and I'm sure just about everyone else) don't expect to get screwed from certain companies, like cell phone companies.

RE: Why lie?
By ebakke on 8/12/2010 10:16:58 AM , Rating: 3
It's also clearly stated at the bottom of each webpage describing their data options. But I keep forgetting.. this is America. People can't be bothered to take responsibility for their decisions.

RE: Why lie?
By jhb116 on 8/11/2010 9:34:01 AM , Rating: 2
And the funny thing is that they have a simple solution to all of this - set the terms of unlimited - ie unlimited total data but set the speed or throughput of the connection. Speed is the real bottleneck.

RE: Why lie?
By Fritzr on 8/12/2010 3:15:29 AM , Rating: 2
Because "Unlimited" is easier to sell than the actual amount they allow their customers.

It's even legal if somewhere in the terms & conditions they 'disclose' a data cap or similar limit that effectively converts the "unlimited" plan to a limited quantity plan. The lawsuit referred to claims that burying this cancellation of the advertised service in the terms & conditions constitutes false and misleading advertising. The company lawyer should be claiming that you are not supposed to agree to the terms without taking the time to understand every clause and caveat. Business as usual with a corporation :D

disagree about *
By sprockkets on 8/11/2010 11:22:46 AM , Rating: 2
Even well before this I've know about the restriction and it is clearly spelled out on their website, especially when I researched their data plans for laptops.

Besides, what are you doing with 10GB (or 10gb?) on a phone a month?

RE: disagree about *
By HrilL on 8/11/2010 12:16:34 PM , Rating: 2
He was no doubt tethering because there is no way you'd be able to download that much on a phone. Tethering might also be breaking their terms of services. It does for most phones. So this guy might not get very far.

RE: disagree about *
By Goty on 8/11/2010 12:26:29 PM , Rating: 2
Precisely, it's not like this is information that they're actively tryingto hide from you. Some people just like to whine and throw tantrums when they don't get their way.

RE: disagree about *
By tech4tac on 8/11/2010 1:23:29 PM , Rating: 3
... Your right about that. I did my research BEFORE signing up and knew about it. It isn't hard to find.

I can't say it was a surprise that someone would sue over unlimited, it was a matter of time. Relative to the other big 3, T-Mobile has the most reasonable data caps and policy for overage (i.e. throttling down). This lawsuit will only hurt the rest of us whose contract is about to expire or are signing up for a new one. Why would T-Mobile continue to offer this type of data plan when it's competitors are moving to 2GB caps--especially when they are being sued for it. Will soon see tiered plans and hard caps.

I have my phone pulling email, syncing, downloading apps, web surfing, occasional tethering, etc. all day and only do 1GB-1.5GB per month. I'm going to assume, and for good reason, this guy was tethering. My understanding is that as of now, T-Mobile does not have an official policy on tethering but you can bet it's going to be clearly spelled out in their T&C in the near future and we'll probably be charged extra for it (if for no other reason then to specify every detail to avoid such lawsuits). This guy abused the system, feigns ignorance, and then whines because he didn't get his way. He benefited from T-Mobile's generous approach to tethering but sues because they didn't spoon-feed him the T&C on unlimited data.

RE: disagree about *
By Lerianis on 8/11/2010 4:50:28 PM , Rating: 2
Reasonable? 10GB's in a world where a high-quality video to watch on your phone can be 500MB's or more? Not reasonable to me.

It's time that these companies had the smackdown put on them, and were told "Unlimited means unlimited! No data caps, no throttling, no NOTHING! Just the full speed of the network that you can use it at! Same thing for 10MB, 8MB, etc. service. That is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, no throttling!"

Someone needs to tell these companies that while this pay be per se legal, it is anti-consumer and it is not going to be allowed.

RE: disagree about *
By heffeque on 8/11/2010 5:56:50 PM , Rating: 2
You DO know that, if everyone started using HSPA and LTE as their normal internet broadband, telco's would have to basically install an antenna every couple of homes, right? That doesn't seem too logical to me. It defeats the purpose of wireless communication if you have to wire up the whole country with antennas every few meters.
Oh, and the fact that people don't like to have cellphone antennas nearby, let alone dozens of antennas.

RE: disagree about *
By tech4tac on 8/11/2010 6:12:55 PM , Rating: 2
Perhaps you didn't see the part where I stated relative to the other 3 (5GB for Verizon & Sprint, and 2GB for AT&T), but since the other 3 don't advertise unlimited anymore you may have a point. Just what do you think will happen if this guy wins? Will it benefit you and other T-Mobile customers or just him and his lawyer?

I can imagine what will happen next. Soon, T-mobile will fall inline with it's peers and no longer advertise or offer "unlimited" plans. They'll bring their cap way down and offer 2GB/month like everyone else (or specify 1GB like they did with the initial G1 launch) and squash tethering. You'll get to be right, consumer "protection" laws will be followed more tightly, T-Mobile will get to charge more, and everybody else gets to be unhappy. It's a win-win situation!

RE: disagree about *
By sprockkets on 8/11/2010 6:24:32 PM , Rating: 2
Reasonable? 10GB's in a world where a high-quality video to watch on your phone can be 500MB's or more? Not reasonable to me.

Yeah, that's 20 movies a month, or maybe 10 if your cap is 5GB, and even then, you still can download and watch them without any extra charges, just not stream them.

Why would you want to watch 20 movies on a 4" screen anyhow? Because you want to go blind? Who streams these kind of movies for mobile devices easily anyhow?

RE: disagree about *
By eskimospy on 8/11/2010 1:48:57 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, right. I just went to T-Mobile's website and went through the entire normal phone/service purchasing process up to the point I would actually give them my card info. I saw several mentions of unlimited web access and not a single mention of any throttling or maximum usage. I'm sure it mentions it on there SOMEWHERE, but not where their average customer would see it.

I'm not sure why anyone would defend practices like these. They are bad for the customer, and in the end they are bad for business nationwide. If customers feel like they are at the mercy of shady provisions that they have to dig out before they purchase something, they are less likely to do so. That's bad for everyone. One of the great strengths of the US system is its consumer protection law. It makes people want to buy things here, because they know they won't get screwed.

RE: disagree about *
By sprockkets on 8/11/2010 6:21:31 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, right. I just went to T-Mobile's website and went through the entire normal phone/service purchasing process up to the point I would actually give them my card info. I saw several mentions of unlimited web access and not a single mention of any throttling or maximum usage. I'm sure it mentions it on there SOMEWHERE, but not where their average customer would see it.

Just go to the data plan section here.

Link for the terms of the data plan are right there.

Sorry, no excuses for this person. He shouldn't complain either since instead of charging overage fees he just get's less bandwidth. Rather take that than a speed hit.

RE: disagree about *
By sprockkets on 8/11/2010 6:38:22 PM , Rating: 2
I mean, a price hike, like the losers at Att.

By Shatbot on 8/11/2010 8:57:56 AM , Rating: 2
Unlimited by any limit - ie: no one set some sort of limit for you. Either through-data or speed, you have paid for what you get: unlimited. The very definition is that you receive a bandwidth that has not been limited by anyone.

They can whinge all they want, but really... why were they selling this without the kahones to see it through? "All you can eat" isn't "eat as much as we think is ok, up to a point"

They should know this industry, "all you can eat salad" at a steak bar is just plain misleading.

I'll have the raw veal thanks. With extra baby blood.

RE: Agreed....
By KC7SWH on 8/11/2010 9:47:42 AM , Rating: 2
But you're not buying unlimited bandwidth you are buying unlimited DATA . It might take forever but you can still have all the data that you are willing to wait for.

RE: Agreed....
By ICBM on 8/11/2010 10:25:05 AM , Rating: 2
I guess it would depend on how they used unlimited in their marketing. If they are offering unlimited data and advertising 3G speeds, I would think you should get unlimited data at those speeds, without a speed downgrade. I wish companies would either actually mean fully/truly unlimited, or just not use the term at all. I give AT&T a little credit for doing away with their unlimited plan because it was actually limited! If you don't mean unlimited, don't advertise it that way, that way there is no confusion. If it doesn't say unlimited, people can't get pissed about not having unlimited meaning what they think it should mean.

RE: Agreed....
By HotFoot on 8/11/2010 11:18:26 AM , Rating: 2
I would very much like the companies to keep a contract with arrangements similar to 5 GB at full speed and then whatever above that at some reduced speed. I like having a fixed bill and not having to worry about going over on data amounts. Slower speed is still good enough for most of the applications I use, though I wouldn't be able to Skype on 3G until the next billing cycle.

What I mean is the only part I would want changed is the name. Perhaps this is why I'm not in marketing, but I can't think of a good, catchy name for the arrangements currently in place. "Almost Unlimited" just... doesn't seem as grabbing.

Limits of Unlimited...
By EricMartello on 8/11/2010 1:57:34 PM , Rating: 3
Not too long ago many Web Hosting companies would offer "unlimited bandwidth" but then either cap the transfer rate or pull the plug whenever you transferred more than their undocumented limit.

UNLIMITED means NO LIMITS, hidden or otherwise. In the case of bandwidth, the total amount you can possibly transfer within a billing period is limited by your average transfer an unlimited plan should be able to provide up to that amount before any kind of "throttling" takes place.


If you advertise 3 Mbps data speeds, that is about 32 gigabytes of data per day and 972 gigabytes per month. If a user is NOT exceeding either of those physical limits on an "unlimited" plan then there should not be any throttling taking place. It would be unlikely that a user would ever meet or exceed those limits and that is exactly the point.

On the other hand, if the want to limit their network then they need to be clear about that on their marketing material. Burying it in fine print does constitute DECEPTIVE advertising and is something that you can take legal action against.

RE: Limits of Unlimited...
By sprockkets on 8/11/2010 11:24:45 PM , Rating: 2
You don't honesty expect all cell phone users to be torrenting on their phone 24/7 do you? That's why for the 99% of people calling it unlimited is just fine. It's called keeping the plan description easy to follow.

Just because you also may have unlimited minutes doesn't mean you are going to run a call center through it either and talk 24/7, because that isn't considered normal usage.

RE: Limits of Unlimited...
By EricMartello on 8/12/2010 4:36:57 PM , Rating: 2
When you start adding those kind of restrictions it is no longer "unlimited". Words have definitions and unlimited means "without limits". The point is that if you choose to advertise a product or service a certain way, but you have no intention of honoring what you advertise, you are effectively using deceptive tactics.

Rather than saying "unlimited" they could have said "abundant" or "generous".

Actually, T-Mobile's method sounds great to me...
By Wolfpup on 8/12/2010 10:11:34 AM , Rating: 2
So you get 5GB, and then get throttled to a speed that's still pretty good for a phone? Sounds good to me. AT&T you only get 2GB, and then have to spend $10 for each additional GB. Everyone else you get 5GB and then get cut off or have to pay more...just being throttled sounds fantastic.

By deltaend on 8/12/2010 11:21:31 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, I have Sprint and I've never been throttled. My plan includes unlimited everything and I take advantage of that.

By Gaston345 on 8/11/2010 6:09:03 PM , Rating: 2
Yep, despite all the bad press its been receiving these days about Blackberry, operators in Saudi Arabia don't throttle unlimited plans at all. 10GB or 200GB runs at the same, fast speed. Anyone feels like moving? :)

3G defines speed AND protocol
By deltaend on 8/12/2010 12:04:51 AM , Rating: 2
One word... contracts. Without contracts, without carrier locked phones... this would be perhaps less of an issue. But, you get locked into a deal with a company without being forewarned about something like this and suddenly you are not getting what you expected, but you can't leave without paying the company that screwed you even more money.

That said, 3G defines a standard of speed as well as a protocol (see Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, 802.11[a, b, g, & n], etc...). Saying Unlimited 3G is saying unlimited bandwidth usage at the 3G SPEED STANDARD . If you tamper with that speed with throttling, you are no longer offering the Unlimited 3G standard.

At the end of the day though, every company has the inherent right and responsibility to both punish abusers and maintain a good QoS, but I hardly call using lots of bandwidth an 'abuse' to a system, especially when that is what you paid for.

They didn't lie..
By serialjoepsycho on 8/18/2010 2:55:20 AM , Rating: 2
First and foremost you don't get the 10gb anywhere else.. secondly everyone else just simply cuts your ass off all together.. If you don't like dial up speeds then don't go over... It's fine print but it's not hidden.. It's in an agreement that you must sign for.. If you aren't responsible enough to read the whole contract then don't sign anything you lazy bastard..

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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