Just last week, AT&T took the wraps off its new selectively constrained unlimited plans. While the second largest carrier in the United States sets its sites on a new era of nickeling and diming customers, its sins of the past have finally come to collect their due. As per an unlimited data throttling complaint filed back in 2014, the FTC has determined that AT&T must cough up $60 million in damages, plus openly disclose all future restrictions placed on its data plans.
The mobile landscape was quite a bit different back in 2014. Unlimited data plans were scarce on AT&T, and the customers that did still have them were on grandfathered plans from the aughts that were designed to entice customers to trade their dumb feature phones for newer smartphones. As AT&T shifted to limited monthly data plans, the remaining unlimited users started to notice their data connections being throttled after as little as 2GB of use in a billing period. That, of course, sparked mass outrage, resulting in a lawsuit that eventually found AT&T guilty.
As a result of the FTC's findings, AT&T is required to set aside $60 million dollars that will be used to pay current and former customers who had signed up for unlimited plans before 2011 and were effectively throttled. When confronted about the settlement, AT&T claimed, "it has been years since we applied this network management tool in the way described by the FTC." An AT&T spokesperson further recanted, "none of these allegations were ever proved in court. We were fully prepared to defend ourselves, but decided settling was in the best interests of consumers."
AT&T's latest unlimited plans still throttle data connections if the right circumstances are met, though these limits are legally disclosed: when the user is in highly congested network areas and if they have used 50GB of allotted high-speed data on the Extra plan or 100GB on the Elite plan. There is no guaranteed data cap for the Starter plan, meaning speeds can be reduced at any given time.