Here's a shocker: in order to conserve precious bandwidth, AT&T plans to start throttling data for the top 5% of users that were grandfathered in on unlimited data plans back in the day. An AT&T spokesperson danced around the subject quite delicately, making sure to note that most users won't be affected by the change:

One new measure is a step that may reduce the data throughput speed experienced by a very small minority of smartphone customers who are on unlimited plans – those whose extraordinary level of data usage puts them in the top 5 percent of our heaviest data users in a billing period. In fact, these customers on average use 12 times more data than the average of all other smartphone data customers.

The most interesting thing that I found about the entire situation is that a definitive data limit has yet to be announced, only that users "may experience reduced speed once their usage in a billing cycle reaches the level that puts them among the top 5% of heaviest data users." So, basically, they're not only going to slow your data, but they're going to do so with no warning shot. Nice, AT&T.

Update: Thanks to a helpful AT&T employee named Jackie, I stand corrected. They will provide a warning shot, but you won't know about it until you're approaching the throttling point. At that time, you will be notified of the impending data slowdown, and will even be given a grace period to ensure everything flows smoothly.

The change is set to go into effect on October 1st; AT&T's full statement is below.


An Update for Our Smartphone Customers With Unlimited Data Plans

Like other wireless companies, we’re taking steps to manage exploding demand for mobile data.  Many experts agree the country is facing a serious wireless spectrum crunch.  We’re responding on many levels, including investing billions in our wireless network this year and working to acquire additional network capacity.  We’re also taking additional, more immediate measures to help address network congestion.

One new measure is a step that may reduce the data throughput speed experienced by a very small minority of smartphone customers who are on unlimited plans – those whose extraordinary level of data usage puts them in the top 5 percent of our heaviest data users in a billing period.  In fact, these customers on average use 12 times more data than the average of all other smartphone data customers.  This step will not apply to our 15 million smartphone customers on a tiered data plan or the vast majority of smartphone customers who still have unlimited data plans.

Starting October 1, 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 percent of heaviest data users.  These customers can still use unlimited data and their speeds will be restored with the start of the next billing cycle.  Before you are affected, we will provide multiple notices, including a grace period.

This change will never impact the vast majority of our customers, and is designed to create a better service experience for all.

The amount of data usage of our top 5 percent of heaviest users varies from month to month, based on the usage of others and the ever-increasing demand for mobile broadband services.  To rank among the top 5 percent, you have to use an extraordinary amount of data in a single billing period.

There will be no changes for the vast majority of customers.  It’s not how much time you spend using your device, it’s what you do with it.  You can send or receive thousands of emails, surf thousands of Web pages and watch hours of streaming video every month and not be in the top 5 percent of data users.

Typically what puts someone in the top 5 percent is streaming very large amounts of video and music daily over the wireless network, not Wi-Fi.  Streaming video apps, remote web camera apps, sending large data files (like video) and some online gaming are examples of applications that can use data quickly.  Using Wi-Fi doesn’t create wireless network congestion or count toward your wireless data usage.  AT&T smartphone customers have unlimited access to our entire Wi-Fi network, with more than 26,000 hotspots, at no additional cost.  They can also use Wi-Fi at home and in the office.

The bottom line is our customers have options. They can choose to stay on their unlimited plans and use unlimited amounts of data, but may experience reduced speeds at some point if they are an extraordinarily heavy data user. If speed is more important, they may wish to switch to a tiered usage plan, where customers can pay for more data if they need it and will not see reduced speeds.

But even as we pursue this additional measure, it will not solve our spectrum shortage and network capacity issues.  Nothing short of completing the T-Mobile merger will provide additional spectrum capacity to address these near term challenges.

Cameron Summerson
Cameron is a self-made geek, Android enthusiast, horror movie fanatic, musician, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys here at AP, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, plucking away on the 6-string, spinning on the streets, or watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on repeat.

  • IamBeast

    If T-Mobile started it, AT&T followed suit, that means Big Red is going to do it as well. Haha. It's only a matter of time now.

  • http://wormdoes.deviantart.com/ WormDoes

    It's a shame that for years with crappy 3G speeds we all had unlimited data on Palm Pre's and Blackberries, but now that we have super phones and faster networks we can't fully use it without spending hundreds of dollars every month

    /end rant

  • bo

    Big Red already did back in February:


    I'd like to send out a big "F**K YOU!!!" to all cellphone service providers. Your all a bunch of liars and cheats.

    To get back at them for these measures, I'll be leaving my phone on and running 24/7 streaming Pandora and functioning as a limewire supernode.

    • IamBeast

      Ah...Thank you bo. It seems Big Read was the FIRST one to do this kind of bullshit...*sighs*...throttling plus higher prices in data. That's just awesome...

  • James

    "Before you are affected, we will provide multiple notices, including a grace period."

    Not quite without a warning shot.

  • Erica

    Can you say "Class Action Lawsuit" boys and girls? Bo I'm with you.

  • JayMonster

    It IS interesting that apparently, these heavy users are only a problem if they are on the unlimited plan. They can seemingly be as "piggy" as they want if they are paying for the tiered plans. It would seem that cash in their pockets can clear the congestion.

    • IamBeast

      Hahahahahaha. You know, I never thought about that before. Thank you for enlightening me

      • JayMonster

        While you (and others) may have noticed... It certainly gets glossed over more than it should, particularly with all the posturing at&t is doing in justifying their blame game.

        But of course you know that as well since you know all, and thus prefer to try and be a smarta*so rather than just contributing to the conversation.

  • ocdtrekkie

    It's just a way to get themselves out of the loophole they left themselves with unlimited data plans.

    See, now, with Verizon, I would *not* mind having a data cap on 4G, if you had unlimited 3G when your 4G expired. That would be a cool way to make use of their older infrastructure.

    • JayMonster

      But of course you will probably drop to 1xRTT

  • Elvis

    Lol... soI those top 5 will obviously drop below their top 5% spot after the throttle... will they remain throttled after and then the new top 5 ALSO be throttled? Lo

  • Mr. Mark

    Hmmm... Sprint customers don't have this problem!

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      If Sprint customers will ever have this problem, they'll probably be the last of the major carriers to do so. Unlimited is in Sprint's current blood, and I hope it'll remain the main ingredient for a long while.

    • JayMonster

      Nope, neither of them are clogging the network.

  • RockingmyEvo3D

    It's truly ashame people pay for there service and now this. I feel sorry for at&t and future tmobile customers sprint will always rule...

    • squiddy20

      Hello there Richard "Dick" Yarrell. As I have said on all of your spammy, trolling posts, try reading the WHOLE article once in awhile. This only affects the top 5% of users. Meaning that the average customer has nothing to worry about. You should feel sorry for yourself for being such a dolt that you read the words "throttling" and "AT&T" and automatically assumed that all customers would be affected. Go get an education. You desperately need it.

      • Topgun

        Hey smart guy who said its the top 5%? ATT said it and they never lie right? Why would a massive corporation lie to make a profit... Even if their 5% number is accurate think about it. They just posted their numbers the other day of 96.5 million subscribers. That is almost 5 million people!!! (4.93) Now that is based on old stats!! With the massive jump of streaming video and music ... well you cannot do that anymore. You stream 2 movies on a long train ride thats it you hit the threshold and now its going to take you 10 min to download that 50k email. That is what makes users upset. Its because we have to take the carriers word for it on the numbers that CANNOT be verified by a independent source and get it shoved in the ass. Yes I am a Sprint customer and it does not effect me directly, but its a direction of the technology that is scary. I am going to use the text reference again. Back in the day good ole att and vzw both said no one texts and the ones that do "strain" their networks which was proven false in time. Now about what, 98% of cell phone users text? Stop thinking so narrowly/shortsighted and look at the bigger picture. I assume people like you cant those based on you're comment.

      • RockingmyEvo3D

        Hey people the... TROLL of everysite has returned again with all his STUPID comments. Ask this BUM what kind of device he walks around with and you'll know he spends much time on someone's computer probably at the library. He definitely ain't using nothing top of line in the real world. They don't even have data plans for what he has. Go back to your dark basement Mr. Squidshit...

  • Topgun

    I feel better about being a Sprint customer more and more every day :D Sprint WILL NOT do this anytime soon. The flood of customer going from the other ones is too great. Big reason is their simply unlimited which they are pushing very hard. Now my 3D is s-offd I will not be leaving Sprint unless forced. Have fun to the others that think they are better than everyone else haha if you want to I will turn on my tether and you can use my data :P

    • JayMonster

      That must explain why Sprint once again LOST postpaid subscribers again last quarter, right? Could you imagine how bad it would be otherwise?

      The only reason Sprint hasn't caved yet is because they are hoping what you claim is happening (subscribers actually fleeing to Sprint) happens... At some point.

      But their crappy service and ever shrinking coverage has them in a state where only the pre-paid is growing.

      And do you think VZW is going to allow them to continue a free ride on their back to their own detriment? If Sprint doesn't change over, the next time that roaming agreement comes up, VZW will price it so they have no other choice.

      So, enjoy it while (and if) you can.

      • Topgun

        Where the hell did you get your information from? Sprint last quarter results where posted 2 days ago and they showed a 4 quarter run of adding over 1 million subscribers. Also showed a 14 quarter run in a row of increasing customer satisfaction. ALSO sprint is posting another gain in profits. AND Sprint has beaten the other 3 carriers in both customer satisfaction, service available and quality, and customer retention...again.

        Free ride??? You do know that bandwidth costs are DROPPING. With LTE and WiMax it drops considerably. One of the big pushes VZW said was with LTE bandwidth costs drop around 5 fold. So why did they all of a sudden want to charge more for something that costs less?

        Its like back in the day when text messaging was getting big. Cost to the carriers was negligible if any for texts. But they saw a cash cow and decided to milk it. It wasn't until years later and billions in profit made after it was exposed that there is no costs to the provider they stopped it for the most part and just included it. ATT and VZW SHOULD be the ones giving free bandwidth because they own most of the network backbones of the internet in the US. There are 7 core backbones and between the 2 of them they own 4 of them. THEY HAVE NO BANDWIDTH COSTS AND ITS PURE PROFIT FOR THEM. They see a chance to rape their customers and they will take advantage until they see a noticeable profit loss when Sprint takes all their customers away. We WILL get to a point in the near future where an average user will consume more than 5gb of a data a month. All you guys will be high and dry.

        Also, here in Chicago, Sprint is the dominant carrier. VZW Tmo and ATT have crappy service. Sprint also just entered into a LTE agreement with Lightspeed, and Clearwire got approval for WiMAX/LTE radios.

        How about before you try and bash something and prove my point about that smug superiority complex people like you have, do some research first and get your head out of your ass :P

      • Mr. Mark

        no, sprint coverage is not magically shrinking. with the new lightsquared deal, it will expand exponentially. soon, coverage will at least be on par with verizon, if not better.

        • Topgun

          Excatly. Also starting with the Evo 3D Sprint is utilizing thier 700mhz band they have which puts it better than everyone else. VZW is only using it for LTE but Sprint is using it for voice/data.

        • JayMonster

          It may expand "soon" but as of earlier this year it was shrinking.

          Source... Sprint Customers, and the Sprint coverage map.


  • JayMonster

    When one decides to call someone smug and tell them to get their head out of their ass, they should first make sure that the person they are speaking to HASN'T done the research, as they suggest.

    What is my source? How about SPRINTS PRESS RELEASE!


    Yes it is true that they gained 1.1 million customers in the quarter. I did not and do not dispute that. What I pointed out, and you seemingly in your smug and know-it-all ways seemed to overlook was that you have to actually READ the press release and get down to that section where it states:

    "Sprint lost approximately 101,000 net postpaid subscribers during the quarter, a net improvement of 127,000, or 56 percent, compared to the second quarter of 2010."

    Now granted ONLY losing 101,000 subscribers in the quarter is an improvement over the 227,000 they lost in the same quarter last year... but the fact remains that even with them now being the only carrier not tiered, they CONTINUE to hemorrhage POST PAID customers.

    It is also worth noting that in addition to customers, they continue to blow through cash at an alarming rate, and will need to at some point turn that around. Whether that be yet another $10 "premium fee" for future LTE data, or possibly going to tiered data, they have to do SOMETHING to right the ship.

    Now, don't get me wrong, I certainly hope that Sprint can right the ship, because whether I am a customer of theirs or not, more competition is GOOD for the consumer.

    Sadly though, in NJ, the situation is far worse than it is in Chicago apparently for Sprint customers. Because here, the service is nothing short of pitiful.

    Keep in mind that at no time did I say that I think VZW, at&t and t-mobile were RIGHT or even justified in what they are doing. I think it sucks that they are trying to rape customers in this way, and you bring forth a good example with SMS. But the fact is that they all did it for some period of time (playing follow they leader as they do), before this was eventually corrected, and I with a heavy heart see this same scenario playing itself out here.

    I bear you and Sprint no ill-will... but in the future, before you attempt to call me out for not doing my research... be sure you do yours.

    • Mr. Mark

      You're arguing that Sprint is losing subscribers, but you're not bringing up any churning statistics for other carriers as if to say that Sprint is the only carrier that loses subscribers...

      • JayMonster

        Church is an interesting statistic, and yes every carrier has a churn of customers, butte critical difference is that after churn, VZW and at&t both have a net add of customers while Sprint has a net Loss (post paid)

    • Topgun

      Jay you make excellent points and I will concede that point to you :P Postpaid will continue to be touch and go because Sprint is going to cap them. Sprint is losing with their unlimited plans with them so I can fully understand that. It is a sad state in our country where the rich still continue to get richer at the expense of the average consumer. I get heated about this because I have a close friend that is so anti Sprint he bashes it at every turn. It gets annoying hehe.

    • Steven

      "OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (BUSINESS WIRE), July 28, 2011 - Sprint Nextel Corp. (NYSE: S) today reported that during the second quarter of 2011, the company added nearly 1.1 million total net wireless subscribers primarily driven by net prepaid subscriber additions of 674,000, net wholesale and affiliate subscriber additions of 519,000 and net postpaid subscriber additions of 275,000 for the Sprint brand. The company achieved its best ever postpaid churn of 1.75 percent and the lowest prepaid churn in almost six years at 4.14 percent. "

      *Cough* ... net postpaid subscriber additions of 275,000 for the Sprint brand. *Cough*

      • JayMonster

        Correct, and then subtract the iDen customers they lost and you have a net loss for the quarter.

  • RockingmyEvo3D

    You poor soul you must be on At&t or verizon it must be pretty sad on those carriers...

    • squiddy20

      You poor soul, you must be an ignorant nobody to say such things about other people and their choices...