AT&T Sued for Throttling User’s Unlimited iPhone Data Plan: Plaintiff Won!

AT&T was Sued for Throttling a Customer’s Unlimited iPhone Data Plan & the Customer Won!
The below fellow, a truck driver, sued ATT in California Small Claims Court for throttling his UNLIMITED iPhone Data Plan & he won! Good for him! The amount awarded him was minimal ($850) but, as the article states, it is the legal precedent that matters!

I’m in this same boat: Supposedly I was grandfathered-in with ATT’s original UNLIMITED iPhone Data Plan (via their 3G Network) since Summer 2009 ($30/month) & it was heaven because I use the phone as a full-time 99.99% mini-computer for web browsing, email, RSS Feed app, etc.

Heaven was short-lived as beginning 10/1/11, ATT began throttling (cutting back) our Internet “speed” to a turtle’s pace whenever ATT decides we have used “too much” bandwidth. What is too much? Who knows! They decide!

All I know is when it gets near the end of the billing cycle, like now, the web-based phone functions barely work. All day yesterday (2/27/12) I was mysteriously forced onto ATT’s turtle-pace-crawl Edge Network even though I had 3G turned On. (Was their 3G out of service? I could find nothing on the web about it.)

I am not a gamer & rarely hang out at YouTube, maybe once a month. All my activity is reading websites via browser or RSS app & then saving/writing content in Notes app & email (via Mail app), same as always. I DO have a lot of email addys, though, because I use them as separate “file cabinets.” BUT I have “fetch” turned OFF for all of them & mail is accessed “manually.”

AND I have had GPS turned OFF from Day One in 2009. I don’t need, want, nor use any “location” services.

Those are the supposed bandwidth hogs (gaming, videos, fetch mail, GPS, etc., which I don’t even use). So what’s the problem, ATT? Grrr.

Several months ago I also began turning off 3G & putting the phone in Airplane mode when I go to bed or am not online via the phone, hoping that would help “preserve” bandwidth. Not really sure if it matters or if it is helping. Older bills from 2009-2010-2011 showed I was using 3-4-5, sometimes close to 6gig per month. More recent months’ bills show between 1-2gig, though my internet-use/habits are exactly the same. So is that ATT throttling? Or does turning off 3G/Airplane mode during bedtime explain the difference? I don’t know, but Edge stinks >> sloooow! & ATT is an “Indian Giver” liar!


Is Your Wireless Carrier Throttling Data? Sue ’em! | CIO Blogs

Is Your Wireless Carrier Throttling Data? Sue ’em!

An AT&T customer whose iPhone data was throttled took Ma Bell to court–and won. If carriers want to play games with the meaning of “unlimited,” consumers can and should fight back. Let’s all throw the (law) book at them, says blogger Bill Snyder.

Posted February 27, 2012

When AT&T and some of the other major carriers stuck a fork in unlimited data plans for new subscribers, I wasn’t happy about it, but frankly, it seemed fair. Use more; pay more. However, a later wrinkle, throttling speeds of heavy users on existing unlimited plans, seemed altogether outrageous. And now, I’m happy to say, a Superior Court judge in California agrees with me, and has awarded damages to a throttled AT&T customer.

Matt Spaccarelli, an unemployed truck driver and student, didn’t get much money, only $850. But now we have a precedent, and since it doesn’t cost much to bring suit in a small claims court in most states, I say others who’ve been throttled should go for it. If AT&T slows you down because you’re using what you paid for, take the bozos to court. If nothing else, a pile of those suits will give AT&T pause about imposing other obnoxious conditions on users of its data plans. Hey, we might even get them to back off.

Here’s what this case is about. AT&T still has millions of smartphone customers who were grandfathered in when the company killed unlimited data plans for new subscribers. Last year it told them that smartphone users with unlimited data plans will be throttled (that is, have speeds sharply curtailed) when they’re in the top 5 percent of data consumers during a billing period.

Spaccarelli, according to the Associated Press, said Ma Bell started throttling his phone after he consumed 1.5 GB to 2 GB of data within a billing cycle. He could still use his phone for calling and texting, but it was too slow to stream videos. It’s likely that he could view websites, but only at a relative crawl.

Angered, Spaccarelli took AT&T to court, and Judge Russell Nadel, who sits on the bench in Simi Valley, Calif., ruled in his favor, although AT&T says it will appeal.

Judge Nadel said it’s not fair for AT&T to make a promise to Spaccarelli when he buys the phone while burying terms in his contract that give the company the right to cut down data speeds, according to an AP report.

You would think that Spaccarelli would have taken his case to a jury trial, or maybe started a class action suit against AT&T. But he couldn’t. AT&T’s contract with users has a clause that says they cannot take claims about the contract to a jury trial or consolidate their claims as part of a class action suit. That sounds outrageous, but the U.S. Supreme Court, in yet another 5 to 4 decision, upheld the clause last year. Since that’s the case, the only remaining legal remedy is to go to small claims court.

Of course, one could always switch carriers. But Verizon, which also deep-sixed unlimited data plans, keeps users in line with something they call “data optimization,” which is based on network traffic. If you’re one of those greedy top-tier users and you’re near a congested data node, you may experience a slowdown, but if you’re not near a congested node, your data speed could be normal.

T-Mobile, which still offers unlimited data plans but doesn’t offer the iPhone, has a complicated relationship with throttling. For a while it was throttling heavy users. Then T-Mobile retreated part of the way, saying that new users who exceed a certain limit won’t be throttled, but will be charged more in any billing cycle in which they go over. Users with existing contracts who hit the limit will still be throttled. And now, they’re going to cut off customers who use too much data when traveling in an area that T-Mobile serves indirectly by piggybacking on other carriers. Yikes! Who could ever figure that out?

Deliberately obscure contract provisions are bad enough. But what really fries me is the pretense by the carriers that “unlimited data” doesn’t really mean unlimited data. It means something else, and they get to decide what. How’s that for fair?

All I can say is sue the bozos.

(Image via

San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. He welcomes your comments and suggestions. Reach him atbill.snyder and follow him on Twitter at @BSnyderSF..



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One response to “AT&T Sued for Throttling User’s Unlimited iPhone Data Plan: Plaintiff Won!

  1. OFF-TOPIC: Someone named “Droid Apps Coolest” tried to leave a comment on this post on 6/30/13. It’s probably spam (which is why I did not approve it). They wanted to know what blog platform this is since the layout is “unusual.” So for any who don’t yet know, all you have to do is look at the bottom corner of the site & it states which blog theme & which blog platform it is.



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