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AT&T to begin throttling top 5 percent of data users

updated 01:00 am EDT, Fri September 30, 2011

Limits go into effect on October 1st

AT&T is set to begin throttling the speed of the top five percent of heaviest data users beginning Saturday, October 1st. Even users with grandfathered "unlimted" data plans will experience reduced speeds once their usage puts them in the top five percent, but the throttling will end at the end of the billing cycle until the user once again uses too much data, said the company. A Reddit user showed 9to5Mac a text warning he got from his provider as proof.

The warning (reprinted below) suggest that the user increase their use of Wi-Fi to avoid the throttling, which will not be implemented on users before multiple notices are sent letting users know they are in danger of having their data throttled. The company says it will also include a short grace period. Verizon has also implemented a throttling program, and Virgin Mobile says it will do the same, also beginning in early October.

The cellular providers argue that a small percentage of users are dominating bandwidth meant to be shared by all, increasing network congestion and reducing the quality of the experience for all users. The Reddit user quoted in the report said he had used 11GB of data, far above the norm even for heavy users.

Critics counter that cell companies simply don't want to invest the necessary amounts into increasing bandwidth for all users, and see data as a highly-profitable add-on rather than the lifeblood of smartphone usage. The providers, all of whom are investing heavily in new 4G or LTE cellular data infrastructure building, have little incentive to continue investing in adding 3G capacity, but concerns are developing that providers will deliberately under-build 4G capacity as well. Sprint is the only provider so far that says that they won't throttle users on unlimited plans, even if they get the iPhone.

Despite the move, the problem is expected to get worse over time as more and more content is accessed and made available to smartphone and other mobile-device users, and as providers push cellular data speeds upward. While typical actual data use by the vast majority of users is very low -- under 500MB per month on average -- the amount is slowly but steadily increasing.

The use of tiered data plans and modest but enforced charges for overage have also proven effective in getting users to govern their own data use, but consumers increasingly want to be able to access cellular data for streaming services such as internet radio and video as well as tethering their cell data to other devices without complicated tiers or conditions for normal use that isn't excessive. The issue, say users, is that the definition of "typical use" will continue to evolve upwards as content providers make more and more services available through cellular data. [via 9to5Mac]

by MacNN Staff



  1. Paul Huang

    Joined: Dec 1969


    As if it is not slow enough already

    I am NOT a heavy user by any measure. I only use it occasionally to see traffic condition. My average use is around 50MB-100MB per month. I use it so sparingly because the speed is typically slower than modem (56K) and I am not kidding.

  1. FireWire

    Joined: Dec 1969



    it's like an all-you-can-eat buffet confiscating your fork once you eat more than average... why can ISPs sustain the load and not the cell operators? I assume once the signal is transmitted to the tower, everything is handled over a regular network?

  1. Paul Huang

    Joined: Dec 1969


    When the users are running amuck

    IPS: users stay where they are.
    Mobile: Heavy users are ruining everyone else's party wherever they go.

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