AT&T publishes full content of company’s data-throttling policy

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Date: Friday, March 2nd, 2012, 07:02
Category: iPhone, News

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After a fair amount of consternation, wireless provider AT&T has published a Web page laying out precisely who will be affected by the policy, and what customers’ options are.

Per Macworld, unlimited data customers on the 3G network will be warned via text message when their usage approaches 3GB within a single billing cycle. If the 3GB ceiling is breached, users will find their data speed reduced for the remainder of the billing cycle; as of the beginning of the subsequent cycle, however, their speed will return to normal. Data quantity is truly unlimited, though, the carrier says—customers can continue to use as much as they want, even after the 3GB ceiling is passed. The company does not specify by how much customers’ speeds will be reduced.

Customers using the carrier’s 4G LTE network have a higher threshold; their speeds will only be dialed down once they hit 5GB.

AT&T says that the speed reductions will only affect the top 5 percent of its customers. The measures have been put in place because of the rapid increase in wireless data traffic created by the increased adoption of smartphones in the past five years; by AT&T’s figures, that number has skyrocketed from 7 million phones in 2006 to 39.4 million in 2011, yielding a wireless data traffic increase of 20,000 percent. According to AT&T, it has invested US$95 billion in its networks over that period, including US$20 billion in 2011; another US$20 billion is earmarked for 2012.

In addition, the network lays out where the majority of that data is getting eaten up, which is to say streaming HD movies. AT&T’s handy chart estimates that streaming HD movies gobbles up 306MB an hour, a sizable increase from the roughly 120MB of data that AT&T says one hour of standard video consumes.

Users can check their current month’s data usage by dialing *data# on their mobile phone’s keypad, or access previous months’ usage at their AT&T account online. The company also offers a mobile app for iPhones that provides the same data.

As for customers’ options, AT&T lays out a few suggestions, including using Wi-Fi when available, since that data does not count against the carrier’s data plans. And, of course, customers can continue using their current unlimited data plan, if they don’t mind the speed reductions. Users can also switch to one of the company’s current tiered data plans, which offer 300MB for US$20 per month, 3GB a month for US$30, or 5GB per month for US$50. But, in those cases, users must pay overage charges for exceeding the data cap: US$20 for another 300MB on the lowest plan, US$10 per gigabyte on either of the higher plans. That would seem to give little incentive for unlimited data customers to switch.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

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