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User Successfully Sues AT&T For Throttling iPhone Data 166

An anonymous reader writes "Matt Spaccarelli has won a judgement of $850 from AT&T for data throttling. From the article: 'Nadel's ruling could pave the way for others to follow suit. AT&T has some 17 million customers with "unlimited data" plans that can be subject to throttling, representing just under half of the company's smartphone users. AT&T stopped signing up new customers for those plans in 2010, and warned last year that it would start slowing speeds for people who consume the most data. In the last few months, subscribers have been surprised by how little data use it takes for throttling to kick in —often less than AT&T provides to those on limited or "tiered" plans. Spaccarelli said his phone is being throttled after he's used 1.5 gigabytes to 2 gigabytes of data within a new billing cycle. Meanwhile, AT&T provides 3 gigabytes of data to subscribers on a tiered plan that costs the same — $30 per month.'"
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User Successfully Sues AT&T For Throttling iPhone Data

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  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Friday February 24, 2012 @04:58PM (#39152401)

    It would be nice to think that rulings like this might have some effect on the traditional corporate practice of making new users sign "contracts" that basically give one party the right to change the terms any damn time they want and in any damn way they want, while giving the other party the right to pay their money and shut up. It would also be nice to think we may live in a country some day where consumer protection laws will actually be geared towards protecting *consumers* and not just the corporations who write all our the laws in the U.S., making these kind of rulings unnecessary in the first place.

    Of course, while I'm dreaming, I had may as well wish for a threeway with Katee Sackhoff and Natalie Portman in my new Ferrari.

  • by slapout ( 93640 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @05:08PM (#39152617)

    If the network is so limited, they should be trying to upgrade the network.

  • by g0bshiTe ( 596213 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @05:12PM (#39152691)
    If that's the case, perhaps there should be an "opt-out", where in the event the contract does change the consumer has the right to terminate the contract without fees if they so choose.
  • by Russ1642 ( 1087959 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @05:18PM (#39152785)
    Upgrading the network doesn't happen overnight. Throttling is their way of delaying the upgrade, which is acceptable if only they hadn't screwed over their customers. They should have sent out an email stating that they were throttling the connections, and they'd also have to suspend any early termination fees. To keep customers at that point they'd probably have had to reduce rates as well. I'm not saying that throttling is ok with me, just that they could have held up in court if they hadn't been greedy dicks.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 24, 2012 @05:19PM (#39152791)

    Can you imagine if you went to rent a car that advertised unlimited mileage that had the same contractual caveats that unlimited data plans have. Your conversation with the agent might go something like this.

    "Yes you do get unlimited mileage but if you drive too much then the car will slow down and only go 5 MPH."
    "Well how much is too much?"
    "There is no set amount, it varies by how much other people are driving. It is only the top 5%"
    "Then how am I supposed to know if I am driving to much?"
    "Well there is really know way to know, just try to drive as little as possible and you should be fine."

    I don't think anyone would stand for that kind of car rental contract.

  • by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @05:24PM (#39152877) Homepage Journal

    The part every judge doesn't understand anymore: that people and corporations are supposed to be treated equally in court.

  • by Russ1642 ( 1087959 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @05:24PM (#39152883)
    Going before a judge isn't third party arbitration. Is it?
  • by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @05:26PM (#39152937)

    If the network is so limited, they should stop selling "unlimited data" and then saying that bandwidth is not the same as data (which is their core argument).

    t-mobile does the same thing, and it is absolutely false advertising. The level of deceit is amazing - they have showboat aps on their front webpage for streaming video and TV, they show ads with people watching the game in a restaurant, but if you do these things, you're going to get throttled to the point that your smartphone becomes useless.

    It's like going to an all you can eat buffet, and getting your first plate of food with no problem, but each subsequent bite of food has to be acquired spoonful by spoonful after waiting in line each time.

    Maybe instead of spending all their money on tricking customers and attempted mergers, they should, oh, I don't know, build out their infrastructure to meet the level of use that is to be expected with the products they sell?

  • by Sancho ( 17056 ) * on Friday February 24, 2012 @05:44PM (#39153209) Homepage

    False advertising--and indeed most law--involves what a reasonable person would expect. A reasonable person seeing particular speeds advertised right next to an unlimited plan does not expect the unlimited plan to be throttled. A reasonable person who signed up for an unlimited plan at a certain speed isn't going to expect that speed to suddenly decrease while other people with a limited plan are seeing the original speeds.

    Most of meatspace isn't highly technical or bound by discrete laws, and judges (particularly in small claims court) tend to favor the little guy who doesn't get paid to know the law inside-and-out. They rule based upon common when there's any wriggle room. Contract law also favors the weaker party any time there is lack of specificity.

    This is honestly not that surprising.

    That said, AT&T can almost certainly cancel this guy's service, and should do so. You don't want customers who are going to sue you.

  • by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @05:46PM (#39153253)

    Good analogy; I like the "all you can eat buffet one" myself. The first plate is fine, but after that, you have to go to the back of a long line, and are only allowed to take a single spoonful of food back to your table. And no eating in line.

    And while you're doing this, you have to look at the posters on the walls proclaiming how yummy the food is, how much better your life is because you're eating it, and how filling it is.

  • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @06:05PM (#39153473) Homepage Journal

    natural throttling happens on the network without extra effort when it's transferring near it's limits.

    at&t's throttling is throttling just for the sake of being dicks, regardless of the network congestion. it's not qossing, it's just making it unfeasible for you to actually use the network to create data transfer bills for them.. you know, running torrents during the night or whatever it is that normal internet connections are used for.

    it should be noted that at&t has plenty of moolah in bank to upgrade the network, but why bother when american sheeple are happy with paying for more?(and they can use not upgrading the backbone as an excuse for mergers to get more air bandwidth).

  • by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @06:07PM (#39153501)

    So, do you understand what the definition of bandwidth is? It's real simple: bandwidth = data / time

    If they lower bandwidth, they have to be either lowering data (meaning not unlimited within the constraints of 3G or 4G), or they are increasing time (which obviously is impossible).

    Furthermore, the throttling was not in the older contracts; those got changed without grandfathering. And the text concerning the redefinition of unlimited, while present, is buried pretty deep in the contract.

    Ice this cake with the sort of advertisements shown, the aps show cased (streaming video, watching the game wherever you are, etc) along with the whole push of fastest network capabilities and such, and absolutely a false picture is generated.

    You wouldn't accept an all you can eat buffet that you can only remove food from one teaspoon at a time, unless it was made abundantly clear to you before hand that this was the case. And even then, you'd look askance at anyone offering such a deal with a name like "unlimited food" or "all you can eat".

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @06:49PM (#39153883) Homepage Journal

    No, it' not impossible. There exist natural limits on the connection unrelated to any imposed limitation. An honest company wishing to offer 'unlimited' service will make sure their offer is profitable at that natural limit. Meanwhile, provision is getting cheaper over time, not more expensive.

    They offered 'unlimited' with secret limits so they could take customers away from providers offering what was actually a better deal but were honest about the actual limits. They had no interest in that honesty thing.

    At this point, they should just fess up and take their lumps, but they're trying to avoid even that by driving their customers (who did nothing wrong) to 'voluntarily' abandon the unlimited plan.

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford