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AT&T targets jailbroken iPhone, Android tethering users

updated 09:25 am EDT, Fri March 18, 2011

ATT clamps down on unofficial tethering users

AT&T has begun sending messages to iPhone and possibly Android users it believes are tethering without paying for a matching plan. The notices tell subscribers that their service "may need updating" with the 4GB DataPro tethering plan since it believed they were using tethering but were still on one of the device-only plans. Subscribers were told to either stop tethering or else face being automatically signed up for the $45 tethering plan on the next billing period, which at least for OSXDaily was March 27.

The notices appear to have been targeted accurately so far and at least have been sent to those using MyWi, a jailbreak-only app that lets users make a hotspot without having to talk to a carrier. Other custom apps for iOS are likely to trigger the same notice. Android users might also face notices if they root their phones to enable the built-in hotspot support or use outside apps.

Rules about on-device versus tethered data are common in the cellular industry, but the approach has drawn flak from users who believe AT&T shouldn't have control over what software they use. AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon have usually argued that tethered or hotspot-enabled users consume more data, but carriers elsewhere, particularly in countries like Canada, usually allow tethering for 'free' with most plans.

AT&T hasn't commented on the notices, but its approach is less aggressive than actively blocking or discouraging third-party tethering options.

by MacNN Staff



  1. hayesk

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Why can't there be a service provider that just sells a la cart service. Why should they care if you are tethering or not? Just charge by the byte at be done with it.

  1. jfgilbert

    Joined: Dec 1969


    It makes perfect sense

    When AT&T routes a byte of data to your phone, it is a lot less work for them than routing it to your phone that will then pass it on to your laptop. So, of course, they have to charge you more. We are seeing here a side effect of letting MBAs out of college make business decisions. They have been taught "pricing to value" as a doctrine to avoid the danger of commodity pricing, and boy, are they happy to apply their newfound expertise. Unfortunately they graduated before understanding that "pricing to value" is in fact price gouging, the "danger of commodity pricing" is in fact competition, and their way to avoid it are just monopolistic practices.
    Which are not deemed illegal, thanks to judiciously applied campaign contributions.
    So, next time you want to get that email on your laptop because it has a better keyboard than your phone, it will be $45, thank you.

  1. DiabloConQueso

    Joined: Dec 1969


    It reminds me of the old days of DSL and Cable...

    ...where AT&T and Time-Warner and Comcast wanted to charge you extra if you used a switch/hub to share the internet connection with more than one computer.

    Then they said 3 computers was ok, but no more.

    Then they finally relented and said, "Fine, share with as many computers as you want."

    Which lasted a few years. Now we have data caps coming 'round the corner.

  1. Treuf

    Joined: Dec 1969


    jfgilbert - wrooooong

    It's the exact same thing for them to route to your phone or to your laptop : the phone is doing the routing and network tweaking when you use the computer with it.
    AT&T won't see anything different, except :
    * More data usage usually
    * Possible HTTP headers which are not mobile safari (some tethering apps fix that with a proxy on the phone)
    * Possible strange protocols going on (IM or SSH for example) - but the iphone can handle those ... so they don't know.

    Frankly, I don't see how they can legally stand up to their goal - they can't bill you without proofs.
    And they can't have clear proofs of what you do with your phone without examining it.

  1. trenchcoat77

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Treuf: please update your Sarcasm Detector App. jfgilbert was making fun of ATT precisely because it *doesn't* cause more work for them, but only represents added "value," the latest terminology used to make gouging sound more palatable.

  1. Treuf

    Joined: Dec 1969


    About usages and monopoly

    Last thing ... seems everyone is used to get fucked in the US with local telco monopolies.
    Either their plan is unlimited, or it's limited ...
    They can just limit rates after a certain cap (lets say 1G or 500m on a phone) is reached on the mobile - which would be easier for everyone.

    Data on phones use a lot of radio bandwidth, it's a nightmare for them in crowded areas - so it's normal for them to do something. But I don't understand reactions which basically say - yep, it's normal.
    That's the exact same issue that you are having with your DSL lines : US was wayy ahead of everyone 10 years ago, now it's the opposite, due mainly to local monopolies.
    I'm happy here with my plan, which is basically the following for 34euro (which is strong now, but would usually translate to 40USD) :
    * ADSL 18M down, 1M up
    * HD TV chanels + pay chanels + pay per view + whatever you want (same as satellite here - although we have way less channels than in the US)
    * Unlimited phone to national calls, plus to 120 countries including the US and mobiles in the US
    * Unlimited calls to local mobile phones
    * A nice set top box / media center, with a 140Gb disk, wifi 802.11n, ethernet over the power line to link it to the dsl box, a download center (eats torrents, http, whatever), games, upnp compatible, tv save / pause / replay (plus over-the-network config if you forgot to save your show), and so on ...

  1. jwdsail

    Joined: Dec 1969


    If AT&T would agree to take my $...

    If AT&T would agree to take my $, I'd gladly add tethering to my acct.

    Sadly, they want me to cripple my phone first by dropping my unlimited data. This is a non-starter.

    I haven't jail-broken and used any of the work-arounds for the very reason that I suspected that AT&T would see what they considered unusual traffic and bill me w/o any hard evidence, or real just cause.. (If I'm not over the 5GB 'unlimited', they shouldn't care)

    I think the vast majority doing this, or holding off on any tethering at all wanting to be 'legal', should all flood AT&T with requests to add tethering to their unlimited plans.. They should do so every day 7 days a week. Sooner or later, maybe AT&T will take the hint. (no, not holding my breath)

    This is no different than music downloads, or TV show downloads.. When a legal way to pay for what they want is available, people do it.. If the products they want are not for sale, due to artificial restrictions, they find their own solutions...

    And we go around, and around...

  1. vasic

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Not quite clear why not


    You are now paying $30 for the 5GB (so-called 'unlimited') plan. If you were to switch to the 'Data Pro' plan with tethering, you would be paying $45 for 4GB of data. If AT&T were ever to offer tethering to the unlimited plan users, it would likely cost at least $20 per month. So the options are:

    1. Switch to Data Pro, add tethering and pay $45 for 4GB
    2. Wait and hope for the unlimited tethering at $50 for 5GB (hopefully)

    Is 1GB difference really worth $5 (assuming that if it were ever to happen, it would cost that much)?

  1. vasic

    Joined: Dec 1969


    In other words

    If AT&T were to offer tethering for the "unlimited" plans, it is much more likely that it would cost more than $20 it does for the current, metered plans. Even if it is only $5 more (at $25), it would be pointless to hold onto the "unlimited" plan when the cost for the consumption ends up the same as with metered data. With current plans, you'd pay $55 for the 5GB usage (the "unlimited" maximum): $25 data pro (2GB) + tethering and extra 2GB ($20) + $10 for excess 1GB. The extra 1GB you pay only in the months when you actually use more than the included 4GB.

    I don't think holding onto $30 "unlimited" (i.e. 5GB) data plan is worth it, if you need tethering.

  1. bjojade

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Tethering uses more data

    For most users, using up 5gb on a phone is a challenge. However, tether your machine and it can happen pretty quickly. Also, on a computer, you are likely to be downloading larger files at a time, which does put an additional load on a network for an extended period. Downloading a bunch of smaller files leaves room in between for others to download with you without noticing the congestion, so it does make a bit of sense.

    If tethering was included on the phone, more people would use it, and the average data usage would increase closer to the caps that are in place. That would mean that they would have to increase the cost to ALL users, even those that don't use tethering.

    In either case, when you got your phone, you agreed to the terms of service that was provided to you. If you don't agree with those terms, you can't simply ignore them and do whatever you want.

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