Ah, the data saga continues. Throttling has been a long-time practice of T-Mobile, which drastically slows data speeds for users who go over their set-amount of high-speed access. AT&T recently announced a similar practice, slowing the top 5% of users who were grandfathered in on unlimited data plans.

Verizon also made a drastic change to its smartphone data packages recently, switching from an unlimited-only offering to a tiered setup. Now, even furthering the changes to its data structuring, Big Red will begin implementing "network optimizations" to all existing customers with unlimited plans on 3G devices in September.

What exactly does "network optimizations" mean, you ask? It means throttling for the top 5% of users (sound familiar?), except VZW isn't calling it throttling. 

Our Network Optimization practices ensure that you can count on the reliable network you expect. To optimize our network, we manage data connection speeds for a small subset of customers – the top 5% of data users with 3G devices on unlimited data plans – and only in places and at times of 3G network congestion. This ensures that all customers have the best data experience possible.

Okay -- so we've determined that this change will only affect the "top 5% of data users with 3G devices on unlimited plans." It's also worth noting the very defined use of 3G throughout the support documentation; so, you guessed it, this change isn't going to affect 4G LTE customers at all.

One way that VZW's change is differing from what AT&T is doing is that a data amount is actually being defined in this scenario. Basically, if you use over 2GB per month, then you fall into this 5% of high-data-use customers. There is a gray area, though.

You will only be affected:

  • When you are on the 3G network; and
  • When you are connected to a congested cell site.

Notice that last point? "When you are connected to a congested cell site." This one is both interesting and confusing at the same time. It's interesting because if you're in a rural area, there's a good chance that you'll never see a decrease in data speeds, regardless of how much 3G data you're consuming per month. It's confusing because, well, who knows how they're defining "congested cell site."

Another interesting point in the documentation is the comparison to throttling:

Is this the same as throttling?
No, this is not throttling.

How is this different than throttling?
The difference between our Network Optimization practices and throttling is network intelligence.  With throttling, your wireless data speed is reduced for your entire cycle, 100% of the time, no matter where you are. Network Optimization is based on the theory that all customers should have the best network possible, and if you’re not causing congestion for others, even if you are using a high amount of data, your connection speed should be as good as possible. So, if you’re in the top 5% of data users, your speed is reduced only when you are connected to a congested cell site. Once you are no longer connected to a congested site, your speed will return to normal. This could mean a matter of seconds or hours, depending on your location and time of day.

As I've already said, there is no clear cut definition of what is meant by "congested cell site," so I have a hard time putting faith in a large corporation to make that judgment call on a purely objective level while remaining fair to all customers, if that's even possible.

While I can't say exactly how this change will play out for myself or other VZW 3G users, I can say that I don't find it to be all that offensive as long as it's implemented in the way that Verizon describes. However, that has yet to be seen, so I'll hold off on further speculations or feelings until I've officially seen the end result.

How do you feel about it? Sound off in the comments.

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.

  • L boogie

    Not exactly sure how to take this "network optimization" considering I'm one of those with an unlimited plan but this kind of scenario would not come into play if there wasn't a financial factor attached to it and Verizon hasn't opened its mouth on that factor YET. for now, lets play by ear as Cameron stated and see what happens.

  • Anon

    Sounds fair, data hogs shouldn't hog.

    • http://twitter.com/binghypo Bing Hypotenuse

      Wrong, wrong, wrong. They sold me a phone with remarkable data capabilities, with a ton of data-hogging apps pre-installed. To go with my phone, I bought an Unlimited data plan. I am using my phone and plan as designed.
      Verizon is not a communal endeavor. It's not like I'm checking out all the books in the library, or taking over an entire public park for my own party. This is a service I have purchased from a private company who was happy to take my money for it. Don't tell me not to hog.

    • Tiffany

      Ok. First, verizon wants all of their oblivious meek data consumers to believe that their (verizons) customers who just so happened to sign 1 to 2 yr contracts and paid and are still paying unbelievably expensive phone bills originally to have unlimited data...are hogs? Sounds kinda communist. Why would you even sign up for an unlimited data plan? Unless you were under the impression that that's what you would get. We should know Verizon is greedy by now. There is plenty of data but how could they charge even more if they cap themselves. They had to come up with data overages.

  • http://www.psycho.ziggy471.com psycho_maniac_

    Verizon brags about this 4gLTE and now they want to slow us down? I'd rather take a carrier with 3g only and always the same speeds anyway. What is the point?

    • ocdtrekkie

      Keep in mind, this optimization ONLY affects the 3G network, 4G will always be full speed ahead.

      I'm still a little miffed though that these companies constantly redefine the word "unlimited" to their liking.

    • Mpciii

      Psycho maniac-Read the article, it doesn't affect the 4G phones or network.

  • joe

    I think verizon knows what times the network gets used most and will limit speeds during those times of the day no matter where you are but they will blame it on congested towers. I hardly use my data but I don't think heavy users should be punished. They are paying for an unlimeted plan, give them a god damn unlimited plan.

    • Joe D

      Unlimited is meant in terms of data not speed, so technically Joe the unlimited plan is not in question or affected, the speed is.

      If they actually do it the way their statement claims, I don't see a big issue..

  • Mike

    Personally, I think it should be for only 3G devices with the grandfathered in unlimited data plans ($30).

    If I were a new customer paying $80 for unlimited...I'd be REALLY pissed if I were throttled no matter how much data I used..that was the purpose of them charing $80 now in the first place (besides greed...lol), to maintain and expand a healthy network.

    • JayMonster

      This IS only for those on the Unlimited plan. There is no "new" unlimited plan. Under the new tiered data plans, you will never be throttled (though your wallet will be).

  • Ben C

    So will this let us break our contract?

    • JayMonster

      No, there is not material change in the cost of your contract, so it does not.

  • K_Daddy

    The speeds fluctuate so much anyway how are you supposed to know when your being throttled? Also I don't like the way verizon attacks their customers. "Data hogs" reminds me of when insurance companies started calling smokers "tobacco users" pretty soon they'll put letters on our shirts..

  • Matt

    Would this be a reason for Verizon to let you out of your contract(if you so choose) with no penalty? My Droid X has hit some rough times lately and i dont think its gonna make it to my renewal time in March

    • JayMonster

      No, of course not. There is not "material monetary change" so it would not be grounds for this.

      Treat your phone with a little more care. If you are beating up on a Droid X, you must be very rough on your phones. I beat the heck out of my X and it is now in the hands of my daughter (who is not exactly gentle with it), and it is still running like a champ.

  • Randy

    Good thing I got the HTC Thunderbolt instead of the iPhone. I used like 5 gigs this month :D

  • J

    "It's interesting because if you're in a rural area, there's a good chance that you'll never see a decrease in data speeds, regardless of how much 3G data you're consuming per month"

    FINALLY! A plus to living in the middle of no-where :D

    I'm curious though, the only time I see a reference to a specific value is Cameron's mention of 2GB/month. All of the stuff quoted from Verizon says "top 5% users"... I'd actually be suprised if 2GB is really the "OMG YOU USE TOO MUCH INTERWEBS" threshold... it seems rather low for a "Data hog" status.... Especially considering the new tiered plans start at 2GBs.... So if I pay for the 5GB package, am I going to get slowed speeds just because I've used ~half of my package?

    I usually only use like 250-300MB/month and I don't really stream too much (just an occasional youtube vid, or a few Spotify tracks here & there), or tether.... I'd bet that the average user who watches a TV ep on Netflix on the bus to/from work each day still falls into the pre-"Data hog" category & uses more than just 2GB/month...

    • anon

      No, this does not apply to tiered data plans at all. If you buy a 2GB plan and run over the allowance, you aren't throttled. You are paying for the overage, so it will be at full speed.

      It doesn't apply to 4G LTE either. There are unlimited 4G plans too, so once 4G adoption rates are high enough and congestion becomes an issue, I have to think logically that this will eventually apply to them too.

  • jbonics

    In Tampa there is a 1.5mb/s cap on all Verizon 3g. The slowest of all carriers in Tampa. I usually see speeds around .6mb/s or slower. CAN IT GET SLOWER THAN THAT. YES. YES IT CAN. WORTHLESS. just a few months left

  • Aaron

    Maybe this "network optimization" implementation is what has been causing people's phones to just up and lose 3g for entire days. Over the weekend, my wife's phone lost 3g data for an entire day, and 4g would only connect for a few minutes. It was working the next morning. I was reading on some forums that a lot of people were having very similar problems, and attributed the problem to bad SIM cards. Thing is, we have unlimited data, but she doesn't use anywhere close to 2gb, while I tend to be the one that has been getting close to that mark lately.

  • Russell

    I used about 66gb until they shut my 4G off, now I use about 30gb a month

  • cmodlive

    i dont think thats fair ...i've been with verizon over 10 years...and i bet there are many people out there just like me...that we have been with the company too long to go through any unfairness ...because we were there when they were growing and now that there on top just dont consider the loyalty. anyway very unfair that it will affect the unlimited plans because in my opinion we originally bought a service, a promised service that now they will not meet...what about the devices that are 4g capable said not to be affected .. but what about when they are not in a 4g area then them too will be affected...?
    i just think is a mambojambo thing.....
    i also think is just a race to see who can take more revenue between the companies.(att verizon. tmobile. etc.)
    why can there just be one with its own terms...be authentic...be loyal to us their customers...
    but hey thats just me...

  • Shelly

    So this is the reason Netflix has been so slow and glitchy for me. And why should I be penalized if I was grandfathered in on unlimited Mike? I paid for the service, sorry that you didn't have it before they switched to the tiered. I think this is total bs. Whats the point in having unlimited data if it slows down so much that I can't use any app that uses a large amount of data (which most do)? In a sense, I'm not getting what I paid for. I paid for a service where I could have unlimited data and not worry about overage charges, but here I'm still being penalized.

  • charlie

    So I my data was slowed at 3.1 gig, I had no notifications/no text/email alert that I was going to be slowed down if i continued to use data, I reached the 3.1gig mark 1-2 days before my cycle ended. If I was notified I could of taken action to not pass the 3gig mark, I call verizon who tells me that they slowed my speed and with little information and no compensation they said ''sorry'' and thats all they can say. Total bullshit

  • Mdouglasmartin

    Verizon has graciously offered to let me sign up for their 4G 4gig plan and I won't be optimized no matter how much I use... just billed extra for anything over 4 gig.  Problem is, they don't have 4g in my area.  "NO problem... the 4G will revert to 3g" but evidently I won't be "optimized" when that happens.  Anyone seen any white rabbits???

  • Mdouglasmartin

    One more point to consider on this... that "unlimited plan" had a practical limit.  Assuming that you ran 24/7 at 3g capacity (assume 500m) for a month... you would hit about 302,000 GB.  2 gig (the current unlimited cap is about .001% of that).  So, if you use more than .001% of the practical limit on your unlimited plan... you get throttled back.  Sounds fair to me.