att-throttle11There’s a great debate that occasionally rages here in the GeekWire offices.

Unlimited cellular data plans, or lower-cost metered plans?

GeekWire co-founder Todd Bishop dumped his unlimited data plan with AT&T in 2012, and has preceded to flog me both privately and publicly ever since.

I’m wasting money, he says.

I’ve stuck with the higher cost “unlimited” data plan with AT&T — in part because I’m lazy about switching but also because I don’t like the mental weight of having to think about my data usage each month.

At least, that’s what I thought.

Last Friday, I received a text message from AT&T noting that usage on my phone was nearing the 5GB cap for the month of May.

A cap?

That was the first I’d heard of this limit in my many years with AT&T.

I called AT&T and a very nice customer service rep explained what was going on.

“You do have unlimited data on the phone. It is just that streaming would be slower” after hitting the cap, she said, noting that sites such as Pandora and YouTube may be impacted by the slower speeds.

att-phones111Then she added the kicker when I pressed about what unlimited actually means. “We do guarantee the unlimited, we don’t guarantee the speeds,” she said.

Turns out AT&T instituted these changes way back in 2011 — and I simply missed the communications and must have never exceeded my limit. (As you can tell, I’m also not a particularly solid reader of the fine print).

The customer service rep assured me that my bill would not be increasing if I topped 5GB, and she pointed out that I could reduce my data consumption by switching my phone to the Wi-Fi network at home and office.

I’ve already altered my behavior on that front, instituting the Wi-Fi capability at home.

Nonetheless, I am not too wild about the idea that I’ll be kicked down to a lower tier if I happen to exceed my limit for the month.

After all, I was operating under the assumption that I was paying for an unlimited plan on the best network. Is this new infortmation enough to get me to switch to a tiered plan?

Maybe. It depends if I exceed the 5GB limit in future months. One thing is for sure: I don’t like wasting brain cells worrying where I stand with my data plan.

What does Todd Bishop have to say to me about all of this?

“Once again, I’ve been vindicated,” he says.

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  • Michael

    They upped the cap from 256 kbps to at 512 kbps on LTE data plans, so not too bad. At least we don’t pay more for more data usage. Tmobile does throttling on most of their tiered plans as well.

  • Foo Bar

    They are selling you a service (unlimited) that they aren’t delivering (degraded service after a limit is exceeded). As a consumer, you are being ripped off because they aren’t delivering what they have sold you. Contest the charges with the credit card you use to pay the bill.

  • Timothy Ellis

    The Cell Phone Industry: Where “unlimited” means “we’ll totally limit your speeds if we feel like it.”

  • Ben Ferris

    I discovered this about a year ago with AT&T when I hit my limit halfway through the month and found out how slow the cap was. Streaming video in the gym was almost impossible for the rest of the month. Finally my wife and I recently decided to merge our plans and we are sharing data on a 6GB plan, but saving about 25% off of the total we were paying on separate plans. If we go over for some reason the overage charges aren’t as bad anymore either and we can always eventually up the shared data if needed. It’s funny how I still hung on so long to my “unlimited” grandfathered data plan even though it truly wasn’t … I think it was a psychological thing to lose the supposed unlimited bandwidth.

    • johnhcook

      Agreed. It is a mental or psychological thing. I like operating under the belief that I have unlimited at the very top speeds. This alone will probably make me evaluate the service, and perhaps even switch carriers.

  • johnhcook

    I’ve learned working with Todd over the years that he’s always right! :)

    • Todd Bishop

      This is my favorite comment thread ever!

  • Eric Marsh

    We decided to move our business’ land line to a cell phone so I went down to the AT&T store and picked up an LG Expression on a two year $49 a month contract. Some time afterwards AT&T added a $30 a month data plan to the phone. I called and asked them to remove the data plan, since I never use it but they refused saying that data plans are required for all data capable phones.

    Talk about a sweet bait and switch. To make matters worse as far as I can see AT&T doesn’t sell a phone that’s not data capable any more.

    I did some digging and discovered that I can buy an unlocked Nokia 106 for about $25 on Amazon, which I promptly purchased. That should save me about $600 over the remaining life of my contract. After that I have a simple solution – I don’t do business with companies that have bad business practices.

  • Ken Morris

    Throttling should be illegal.

    • Mike

      I got kick off my unlimited plans! AT&T would texts with threat that they would change the plan then kick me off. Did this happen to anyone?

  • jackieG

    I hit my cap often, and then am at 1997 dial up speed it is so maddening I feel like I am in a bad relationship. When I change plans, which I will have to do soon, I will not stay with AT&T!

  • Ridiculous

    This would be the equivalent of renting a car by the day with unlimited mileage, only to find out that at 100 miles distance the speed is limited to 20mph. Sure you can drive from Mexico to Canada… it’s unlimited.

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