It's no secret that providers have been starting to crack down on illegal tethering, but now AT&T is taking a new approach on customers using their device as a hotspot without an appropriate plan.

Back in March, Ma Bell started sending out notices to customers found to be tethering without paying their dues to subtly let them know that their current plan "may need updating." Well, as it turns out, the time for subtleties is over. Users that were grandfathered in on an unlimited data plan that are tethering will now be automatically moved to a 2GB tiered plan with a 2GB tethering package. Currently, the unlimited plan costs $30 per month, and the tiered plan is $15 more, at $45 per month. How does that sound? Higher cost, less data.

There is one way to prevent this change though: stop tethering. You see, AT&T is still being somewhat tolerant of the behavior, offering up one last smack-on-the-hand before the real punishment takes place. If you just can't resist the urge to tether, however, you are left but two options, per AT&T: either manually update your plan, or do nothing and they'll update it for you.

There's not word on when this change is set to happen, so if you don't want to be knocked off of that unlimited horse that you so proudly ride, you should probably stop tethering. It may not be ideal, but at the present time, it seems to be the only way.


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.

  • bo

    Does this violate the service agreement i.e. offer a way out of your contract with no ETF?

    • SiliconAddict

      That is kinda what I was thinking but $10 says ATT just recently updated their terms of agreement to include this. See these asshats are allowed to alter their contract at any time and as long as you don't pay attention and balk, they can take that as acceptance of the contract.

    • Carlos

      I dont tether, yet got this email from att telling me that I was using 12 x more data than average users... Not too happy with that... What are your thoughts on that?

  • http://mitchs.posterous.com Mitch Samuels

    Total bullshit. Why doesn't the Government do anything about this? Unlimited should truly be unlimited, as in, ours to do whatever we want with it.

    Even the price of data here is extremely high compared to most European countries.

    • Paul

      It's not government that needs to do something. It is the customers who should stop giving them money and go to a different carrier. Supply and demand. Free market etc etc. Do not rely on the government to solve all your problems.... They haven't done very well so far.

      • Chahk

        With the speed carriers are buying each other out these days, we will soon have no place to go. With the duopoly created by Verizon and AT&T(&T), they will be able to do whatever the hell they want.

        It's only a matter of time before make other things "illigal" - like Google Voice's free SMS. After all, texting costs carriers nothing, and yet they are able to charge upwards of 25 cents per message. So why give up this very profitable revenue stream? Next - add a contract clause saying that having a camera in your phone requires a special "photo data" add-on. Got a GPS in your smartphone? Pay more for putting extra strain on the networks downloading the aGPS data! And how dare you use WiFi at home/office and deny the carriers their rightful income! Extra charge!

        You think these examples are ridiculous? Not any crazier than charging customers twice for the same service, as they do with tethering (on a tiered plan.)

        No. The government does need to step in and break these bastards up like they did 35 years ago. This T-1000 is pulling itself together again, and it's time to hit it once more.

        • Paul

          I guess depending on how far it goes you could be right, but we got to stop giving them money too. Why would you change when dumbasses keep forking their money to you. I left verizon because they were just a bunch of greedy bastards, even bought out of my contract on principle. But as long as people keep feeding them, they will keep growing.

          And I definitely would not put those examples past any of them. I go with sprint because they are the least of the evils...
          End transmission.

  • http://silverfang77.tumblr.com Silver Fang

    We pay for unlimited data. We should have the right to use it however we want. Time for a complaint to the FTC and if that doesn't work, a class action lawsuit.

    • SiliconAddict

      Take a look at the details of your contract. I'll bet you a beer that it says DOES NOT INCLUDE tethering. Just because I get unlimited soup with my meal doesn't mean I can have a couple more steaks with it.
      The fact of the matter is the amount of data people pull down from tethering is a hell of a lot more then what is being pulled from the phone itself.
      Which is why I'm DAMN careful about what I'm doing when I tether. A simple WoW session can suck down a lot of data.

      • Duffin

        Your comparison doesn't fit. Soup and meat are two different things, but regular data and tethered data is the same exact thing. Despite how much data you /use/, it's the same data. People who have a 5 GB data cap will use the same amount of data whether they are tethering or not.

  • David Ruddock

    Your unlimited data plan doesn't provide tethering - and it's clear AT&T wants that to be a separate product.

    It's dickish, but they have every right to do it.

    • SiliconAddict

      Pretty much. However I wouldn't mind a tethering lite where I can get 50MB for free as a curtasy with your contract. After that you pay a reasonable rate. The problem is carriers aren't reasonable.

    • John

      WRONG, my 2005 TOS doesn't address tethering. They have every right to create new plans that people don't like, but that doesn't alleviate their responsibility to honor their contract with me. They have lied on the phone to me and sent threatening letters to get me to CHANGE my contract. If I am in violation (which I am not) then why the big push to get out of their old contract?

    • Joedoeing006

      Per the court decisions that upheld our rights to root our phones because it is our own property, hardware that we can use as we see fit, they don't have a legal right to stop me from tethering. According to the decision, we paid for and hence own the hardware, we cannot alter our providers software which puts a safety lock over the switch that turns on my wifi hotspot (another piece of hardware within MY PHONE) however we can remove their software and install our own. By doing this I have effectively removed that lock and can turn on my wifi hotspot hardware. Them saying I can't do this is tantamount to your electric provider selling you power but then telling you that you aren't allowed to turn on your light switch! Its outrageous. The only way they can legally stop it is to require anyone using the tethering APN to have a service provided password because then they are just regulating their software. But illegal as their actions may be, it wont stop because they havebthe money to pay the expensive legal team and I don't.

  • http://goo-inside.me DrMacinyasha

    Last I heard this doesn't really apply to Android since they don't have a way to tell that Android devices are tethering, besides giant bumps in data usage. Instead, they can tell with iOS devices since they'll use a separate APN on AT&T for tethering, if they use the built-in tethering methods.

    tl;dr, if you're tethering on Android, don't panic. If you're tethering on iOS using the built-in method, panic.

    • Paul

      Exactly. I was wondering from a technical perspective how they detect tethering. I tether but on the rare occasion I need internet and there's no wifi. I'm not one of those insane people who rely solely on tethering as their only internet connection. I have wifi at home, at work, mcdonalds, etc. but if I'm in the middle of nowhere and need to do something real quick and it's too tedious to do it on the phone, I'll tether. But without using a different APN and if the phone NAT's the laptop's packets from it's own IP/Interface, then there should be no technical way for them to detect it (well, TCP fingerprinting but that's tedious). And since I don't tether that often, there would be no huge spike in my data transfer, I'm not torrenting or anything stupid.

      • http://goo-inside.me DrMacinyasha

        Their only real way to figure it out would be through DPI, to see for example what browser agent is connecting to a website (if an Inspire 4G is claiming to be a Cr-48, or Firefox 5 running on Windows 7 SP1 x64...). If they were doing that, I have no doubt there would be a good amount of backlash from privacy advocates, consumers, and even stock holders. They'd be far better off placing that money on something useful, like expanding their network, increasing HSPA+, and rolling out LTE.

        • Joedoeing006

          My phone, a rooted inspire, I run the browser as either Firefox or ie9 for better website compatability and that doesn't breach my contract yet they sent me a letter

    • SiliconAddict

      Actually it depends on how you are tethering. Some methods they CAN tell that you are tethering. Others not so much. (PDAnet as an example.) In any case if you are pulling down 10 MB per min its a pretty good bet you aren't using just your phone. Also if they REALLY wanted to they could do a packet inspection and see that you are running Windows and not android. But that requires serious work.

      • http://mgamerzproductions.blogspot.com Mgamerz

        I can't pull down 3MB a min with AT&T's supposed 4G network... its pathetic. I pay 25 bucks a month for data that barely ever delivers the speed they advertise

      • Joedoeing006

        My rooted phone can run apps, including browser in a windows mode with the same packet indicators that windows has and that is not illegal, breaking their rules our any of their business to look for, it actually could constitute a breach of privacy.

  • Sam

    Just one more reason to run a custom ROM. They have no way of knowing if you are tethering. I don't even buy ATT's jacked up versions of phones. I'd rather buy one from another country or direct from the manufacturer. My Galaxy S II is working very nicely on ATT :)

    • Mark

      I hear they'll be implementing some high end servers/routers/gateways throughout their network that will do TCP Fingerprinting on Smartphone traffic, looking for any signs of Windows or Mac OSX. They'll also be checking User-Agents of port 80 traffic, ensuring all your HTTP generated traffic is from a known Smartphone user-agent. Another option they're investigating is a web proxy that will redirect you to their own server first which uses some javascript code that will detect your screen resolution and record it and then forward you on to your intended website. Apparently the revenue generated from these mitigation techniques far exceeds the cost of implementing the equipment.

      • http://goo-inside.me DrMacinyasha

        Stuff like that will induce hundreds of privacy lawsuits, wiretapping cases, and they're still unreliable as almost every Android browser has the ability to use User Agent spoofing. Javascript for screensize is also unreliable, as it will change depending on how the user zooms the page. I know that on my site, Google Analytics has told me that Android devices ranging from 0x0 to 9000x6000 have come and gone.

        • SiliconAddict

          Dude I hate to break this to you but Comcast et all already do this. And its THEIR network you are using. They can look for data signatures, doesn't mean they are looking at the details of that data.
          You can bring those lawsuits....they will fail.

    • Joedoeing006

      Wrong, I have a rooted HTC inspire 4g running cyanogenmod 7 and I just received my letter. They have figured out a way to know I've been using my hotspot

  • somebody213

    My question is why add the ability to teather on a phone if service providers are gonna be a b**ch about it?

  • Adrian

    I'm from Europe(Romania) and i have an 18 GB plan. I pay 18 euros ( $26) /month , no restriction on tethering.

    • andy

      Mine is similar to yours, but with true unlimited, and the network encourage tethering, all for the grand total of £25 per month. They also throw in 2000 minutes and 5000 texts.

  • Concerned Androidian

    Dear Android Police.

    Last time I checked there wasn't a law against tethering. Therefore, it cannot and is not illegal.


  • John

    I can see them being upset about tethering on an unlimited plan but to force you to a teired plan and then tack on a tethering plan is ridiculous. As long as you stay under your GBs who cares how you use it.

  • ABTBenjamins

    Consumers are morons sometimes.

  • Mike

    THe latest version of PDANet (3.00) even has a "hide tether useage" feature.

    I don't know the techincal mumbo jumbo behind all of that, but it sounds good! lol

    Been using that program since the days of my Treo 650...

    Free always for http, after 30 days a one time fee of $15 which allows you to still then access https sites

  • Jbonics

    Anyone rocking att is either clueless or has unlimited data. Metro PCS hooks you up with a pre rooted phone pre installed rom free wifi hotspot, and you can flash any phone from other carriers. I hate my verizon.

  • Tim

    ONE good reason that they suck !!!

  • Topgun

    If Metro was in Chicago I might use that. But less of all the major evils is Sprint. I fucked up my root of my old Evo back when I got it and bricked it. Totally my fault. I even told the Sprint guy what I did. They swapped the phone out. I have been tether off my Android phones on Sprint for a while, sometimes going 50gb+ a month and never heard a peep from Sprint.

  • John

    The answer is simple. Goto your original TOS contract. If yours is like mine (2005), tethering wasn't addressed and is not a violation. They will lie to you on the phone (they did to me) and send you threatening letters to get you to CHANGE to a new plan which addresses tethering. Stick to your old plan (even if it requires you to stop tethering for the short term) until someone holds AT&T responsible for a Breach of Contract. Just because new users don't have a contract like mine available to them doesn't give you the right to complain about my contract.

    • Cboysfan

      I agree with John, just stop for a while and wait. Also I urge everyone who has been nice to AT&T by using WIFI when possible to STOP. I used to only use 3G when I had to. Not anymore. I only tethered when I had to and since I started last year I have used less than 20GB total. Now I am only using 3G and in less than 16 hours used 3.0 GB and will watch another baseball game tonight. If everyone who has u limited stops using WIFI they will see how much we used to save them. I am really miffed over this because I would tether so my kids can use iPods on trips and only used with my laptop when needed. My goal now is to hit 80GB a month or more just by not using WIFI. Everyone tell your friends who are unlimited and let's bring them to their knees or at least give them a wake up call

  • randyfromreno

    Next they will get rid of all Grandfathered plans like Big red is doing. Sprint just changed there Data and tethering plans as well.