AT&T: 'Eat too much data and we'll strangle you'

Top 5% of heavy downloaders will be throttled

If you're a heavy downloader with an unlimited AT&T wireless data plan, you have two more months of full-speed all-you-can-eat before your service may be throttled.

"Starting October 1," the company explained in a press release on Friday, "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 per cent of heaviest data users."

Membership in the top 5 per cent club will vary month-to-month, and before you join that elite Gang of the Throttled, AT&T promises that they "will provide multiple notices, including a grace period."

In any given month, you won't be throttled until you reach that 5 per cent, but although AT&T's regs don't make it clear at what point during a billing period that determination will first be made, once you're deemed to have joined the group, full-speed access "will be restored with the start of the next billing cycle." If you dive back down out of the top 5 per cent, it appears, you'll be throttled for the remainer of that month.

AT&T says that it's making the change in order to "manage exploding demand for mobile data." They also contend that the top 5 per cent of bandwidth users consume 12 times more data than the average of "all other smartphone data customers."

Although the company contends that "the vast majority of customers" will see no change in their service – 95 per cent being a reasonable definition of a vast majority – it notes that customers who use streaming-video and remote-webcam apps, send large files over the wireless web, or enjoy "some" online games are prime candidates for throttling.

"The bottom line," AT&T claims, "is our customers have options," referring to an unlimited plan that may or may not be throttled, or a tiered data plan in which you can pay for an extra data-download limit and not be throttled.

Among the options they don't mention is Sprint – the only major US wireless carrier that still offers a fully unlimited data plan, with Verizon having moved to tiers and T-Mobile now throttling when users exceed their "Unlimited" plan's 200MB or 2, 5, or 10GB limits. ®

Sponsored: Today’s most dangerous security threats