att smack tethering

AT&T users who have been tethering their phones' data plans under the radar (either using MyWi on a jailbroken iPhone, or one of many apps like Wireless Tether for Root Users on a rooted Android phone) have been receiving a little nudge from AT&T asking them to sign up for a tethering plan - or face possibly getting signed up for it without consent.

In a lengthy email, AT&T writes "Tethering can be an efficient way for our customers to enjoy the benefits of AT&T’s mobile broadband network and use more than one device to stay in touch with important people and information. To take advantage of this feature, we require that in addition to a data plan, you also have a tethering plan. Our records show that you use this capability, but are not subscribed to our tethering plan." It isn't clear what methodology the carrier is using to detect the tethering, but other sources report that they have been correct in their assessments (the obvious guess would be that is has to do with using large amounts of data that a phone would be unlikely to download).

It seems that nearly every situation where a product being sold is composed of data eventually brings up a different version of the same argument: the seller wants to control and regulate what you do with that data, customers want to be free to do what they want with the data they paid for. You have seen it with DRM in books, music and games, the question of whether it's legal to make your own digital copies of various media, all the way up to the grand net neutrality argument with internet providers. One more iteration of that same fight comes in this form, regarding using your data plan for tethering or not. We expect the legality of it all to be just as muddy and ambiguous as it is with other situations, but AT&T has made it clear where they stand - and they appear prepared to enforce it (I can see lawsuits being drafted up already).

We know that many of our readers have rooted devices and likely tether without signing up for their carriers' tethering plans. Do you think they have a right to tell you whether you can use your data for one purpose or for another? Let us know in the comments. You can also read the full email below:

Dear [Name of Account Holder],

We’ve noticed your service plan may need updating.

Many AT&T customers use their smartphones as a broadband connection for other devices, like laptops, netbooks or other smartphones– a practice commonly known as tethering. Tethering can be an efficient way for our customers to enjoy the benefits of AT&T’s mobile broadband network and use more than one device to stay in touch with important people and information. To take advantage of this feature, we require that in addition to a data plan, you also have a tethering plan.
Our records show that you use this capability, but are not subscribed to our tethering plan.

If you would like to continue tethering, please log into your account online at www.wireless.att.com, or call us at 1-888-860-6789 Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. CST or Saturday, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. CST, by March 27, 2011 to sign up for DataPro 4GB for Smartphone Tethering. Here are details on the plan:

DataPro 4GB for Smartphone Tethering
• $45 per month (this gives you 4GB in total, combining both your smartphone data plan for $25 and the tethering feature, $20)
• $10 per each additional GB thereafter, added automatically as needed
• Mobile Hotspot capabilities are included for compatible Smartphones

If we don’t hear from you, we’ll plan to automatically enroll you into DataPro 4GB after March 27, 2011. The new plan – whether you sign up on your own or we automatically enroll you – will replace your current smartphone data plan, including if you are on an unlimited data plan.

If you discontinue tethering, no changes to your current plan will be required.

It’s easy to track your usage throughout the month so there are no bill surprises. For example, we send you free text messages when you reach 65, 90, and 100 percent of your plan’s threshold. If you would like to monitor your account more closely, go to www.att.com/dataplans to learn about other ways to track your data usage.

As a reminder, our smartphone data plans also include unlimited usage of Wi-Fi at no additional charge. AT&T smartphone customers can use Wi-Fi at home or on-the-go at any one of our more than 23,000 U.S. hotspots already included in your data plan.

Thank you for bringing your account up to date. We appreciate the opportunity to continue to serve your mobile broadband needs.



Please update your data plan by March 27, 2011 if you intend to continue tethering

To learn more and update your plan, visit att.com/dataplans

Reach us for assistance during business hours: Monday – Friday 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. CST Saturday 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. CST at 1-888-860-6789

Source: OSXDaily via Electronista

Will Shanklin
Will's typical, run-of-the-mill story is that of 'classically-trained actor turned Android smartphone and tablet writer.' If you catch him quoting Shakespeare, it's not because he misses it, but because he desperately wants his Masters in drama to count towards something.

Sir William dwelleth in the fair haven
Chicago; with his fair maid'n Jess and his
trusty cur, Ziggy.
  • Tensai

    How generous of them to not charge me for using my own WI-Fi connection.
    "As a reminder, our smartphone data plans also include unlimited usage of Wi-Fi at no additional charge."

    • http://www.urgack.com B

      They mean the out-in-the-wild AT&T wifi hotspots, like at Starbucks. So uh, shut it.

      • http://zalzalaweb.com/jens anakin78z

        "AT&T smartphone customers can use Wi-Fi at home..." is written in the document, so, uh, shut it.

  • http://www.slipshft.com Slipshft

    No, they should not be able to charge you for something that you did not sign the contract for. They need to find another way to enforce it, or better yet, let you use your data plan the way you see fit. It's just another way to bilk the public of their money. Maybe it's time to stop using our cell phone (gasp, what will we do?).

  • portnoyd

    Lol, if Verizon does this, I just won't tether at all. It's a nice boon but not even close to being worth $20/$30 a month. Putting a 4Gig cap on it makes it worthless for anyone who uses it a lot too.

    I like how they will automatically enroll you if you do nothing. Smells like class action suit.

    Also, this is also an attempt by AT&T to eliminate grandfathered unlimited plans. Sneaky pricks.

  • RJ

    Wow.. glad I left AT&T when I got our EVOs. What a back-stabbing ripoff they've become.


    Oh Sprint how I love thee!

  • http://zalzalaweb.com/jens anakin78z

    Very curious... how can they tell if anyone is tethering? Is it something we can circumvent?

    • SiliconAddict

      In many cases they can't. PDANET is designed so its drawing data like any other app sitting on the phone. However some of the other apps out there that integrate further into the OS is probably leaving a signature that ATT can ID. Or they are going seriously overboard on data and ATT is making the assumption that if you are chowing down on 10GB of data you are probably tethering.

  • James

    Good for them. Stealing isn't right.

    • Dave

      Nobody is stealing anything. They are using bandwidth that they have legally paid for. It is ridiculous that the provider thinks they can tell you how you can use your data.

    • Tyler

      Pay for unlimited data, tethering data and data on tablet.

      It shouldn't matter how you use your data. If they give you unlimited, let it be unlimited all the way around.

      • James

        I understand where you're coming from... having to pay for extra data on top of unlimited is stupid.

  • Duffin

    This really is becoming the age-old argument isn't it? Is all data equal? And if it is, do we have a right to use it however we like if we've paid for it? Being a consumer I, of course, believe that I should be able to pay the $20 for my data plan and use it however I like without having to pay an extra 10 bucks to tether it to another device

    Now, I understand the argument. Wireless carriers (many of which are also ISPs) don't want their customers to get rid of their regular internet and rely solely on wireless connections. They'd lose money and their wireless networks aren't really built for that yet. I personally only really use tethering when I'm at the airport and the airport I'm at doesn't have free wi-fi.

    The problem, of course, arises when these companies try to lock you into paying for tethering to stem to possible chance of someone trying to use it as their only internet source. Why is it such a problem for these companies to simply go after those people who are abusing the system in lieu of punishing every single on of their customers? The answer is simple. They're greedy and are trying to bilk as much money from their customers as possible. I realize companies are there to make money, but at some point, you have to look back and say that it's better to have a happy customer than an extra ten bucks a month.

  • http://www.humidorsandmore.com J Kane

    If you've paid for wireless data then you should be able to use it any way you want to. Distinguishing between transmitting data to a phone or tablet is just a way for them to scam some money out of you.

  • Bob C

    class action lawsuit.

    • Henry

      Yep. Sign me up. I remember when the phone companies tried doing this. You purchased an unlimited local land line, but some people were too chatty, so they then stated that you unlimited talk, wasn't really unlimited.

      I purchased an unlimited data plan. If AT&T tried this crap with me, I'll quit and go to straight talk. Half the price, pretty much the same service. Once they add Android based phones, I'll probably change anyway.

  • jason

    i wonder if they're packet sniffing and looking at the browser user agent header to detect this or purely going on volume of data?

    or can they tell what apps you have installed on your phone?

    i'm glad i ditched at&t.

    how to tell if your wireless carrier is a prick: do they charge extra for texting on a smartphone?

  • wp7isthebest

    Just chiming in to say that ATT Austin giving Android Vince a stunner is hilarious.

  • http://dangerismymiddlename.com Paul Danger Kile

    With wifi tethering it's like you have a non-NAT-ing router: each computer shows up on their network seperately. It's extremely likely that's how they know.

    Data is data. These companies think we still have phones. We don't; these are computers that just happen to have a phone function. When trying to decide what's theft, use that yardstick. Would this extra charge be OK if this were a PC on non mobile ISP?

    To change the subject slightly: imagine buying a Windows laptop from your carrier and then having them tell you that upgrading your to a new version of Windows will void your warranty, and that you will get your upgrade when they hand you a new laptop at renewal time. How long would they get away with that? That's exactly what's happening to us.

    These aren't feature phones. They are general purpose computers. We might be cheat ourselves

  • http://dangerismymiddlename.com Paul Danger Kile

    Sorry, my finger hit return by mistake. Darned phone... Erm, I mean: darned Linux workstation, that fits in my hand, and runs Android, and has a phone function.

    By choosing Android our carriers chose to provide us with really little general purpose PCs. That choice comes with a lot of responsibility, and quite frankly most of our carriers don't want it. They want the profitable parts of that choice, but without the extra liability that comes with moving from a mobile phone world to a really little PC world.

  • Tyler

    agree, if the wireless carriers cant give anyone there 2Gb or unlimited data, stop advertising as it is or be honest not just punk people left and right and gimp phones

  • Joe

    I have Timewarner Roadrunner Turbo. I pay 39.99 a month for unlimited. When I got it they gave me an option to use THEIR wireless router for an extra 5 buck a month. I said "No, I have my own wireless router, I'll set it up when you leave." He said no problem.

    So here's my point: Timewarner doesn't care if I use my own 3rd party wireless router to share my internet with all of my devices. Why does At&t care if I use a 3rd party application to share my internet my with devices. As long as I pay for the data I use there should not be a problem.

  • Josh H.

    this is b.s. for sure, but I'm not surprised. this is at&t were talking about. and its very clear in their TOS that tethering is an add-on service. that's why a class action suit would be point less. my decision to switch to Sprint keeps looking better all the time.

  • Amos nonyu

    So atnts takin ur tetherin away huh? Well im all for protestin this injustice. Well if u still have unlimited data heres what u should do : use netflix or other apps to abuse bandwidth as much as possible, plug it in and stream HD 24 7. Take away our tethrin willya...

    • SirWally

      Pst. The unlimited plan is not unlimited (for those who still have it) and hasn't been for a long time, if ever. It has a 5GB cap. I know, because I still have it.

  • rachael

    This is all going to come to a head eventually. These "unlimited" data plans (verizon as well as ATT) with the 5gb LIMIT are false advertising. I bought this phone. I own it. I pay for a service I should be able to use that service however I see fit up to and including my primary source of internet. It doesn't matter what carrier you are with. They are all eventually held accountable to one force....the consumer. I believe some companies forget that when they are raking in the money. But when all is said and done it is the consumer who decides the fate of such companies. ATT and Verizon are exposing their throats for some small, unknown to come in and steal away their business by providing consumers the services they want at a fair price. Maybe not today or tomorrow. Rome wasn't built in a day and it sure didn't fall in a day.

  • Maddox

    Absolutely ludacris, but what isnt these days when it comes to data? 4gb is a ridiculously small amount of data for the price. They are making so much money in the first place, its just adding insult to injury. Something needs to be done about this. We pay then for what they ask for, then they try to bend you over repeatedly after youre committed. kladsjdf;kljad;lfjal

  • Maddox

    Totally love the article graphic, though! Haha!

  • Katie

    How about AT&T making false claims altogether .
    When I got my iPhone, and unlimited data, they failed to mention that I could never use a site with flashplayer video.
    They never said unlimited, except sites with flashplayer video.
    Tethering doesnt use more data does it?
    Also I wear glasses. It let's me see it on a bigger screen so I don't strain my eyes any more.

    • Henry

      Actually the lack of flash support is not AT&Ts problem. Its Apples. Apple refused to allow flash applications to work on the iPhone. Which is why I would never buy one. The iPhone looks cool, but its functionality is so limited.

  • Pritesh

    By following the argument from AT&T, shouldn't the cable/DSL/Fiber ISP's charge us for using our phones equipped with wi-fi on their networks ?

  • tim

    They havent caught me. My phone is my only home internet access. I have a 2gb plan. I pay for 2 gigs, why should they care what screen it shows up on. The only reason i dont have dsl is because attcable ia there, and techs say were within range, but att wont put our address into the computer. So until they fix that, ill tether all i want.

  • Clayton

    It is actually very easy for them to find this out. All they have to do is watch the addressing on the stack, if there is something under the phones signature then they are tethering it. So any of you that got this, AT&T is sniffing your packets to see what you are doing and how you are doing it.