With these rumored throttling plans, would AT&T be punishing unlimited data users?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from Arizona
Published: July 29, 2011

We expect our wireless carriers to do crazy things. Maybe not all the time, but as the days pass, we know that something crazy is coming from the heads of State of our favorite wireless network. Perhaps some of those decisions are good for the majority of subscribers, or maybe even great. But, as things go, it’s usually the negative crazy things that our carriers do that get the most attention. While our network operators are still promoting unlimited voice and data in some instances, unlimited data seems to be quickly becoming something of the past, where only those who were lucky enough to get their hands on it remember it with happy thoughts, and reminisce with others about “the good old days.” Like I said, it’s the negative things that get the most attention, and right now the latest rumor regarding AT&T’s next move in the data scheme of things will probably rub more than a few people the wrong way.

It’s been more than a year now since AT&T officially unveiled tiered data. It was a bold move for the second largest wireless carrier in the United States, especially considering their major competitor hadn’t yet made the move. (Rumors of Verizon’s tiered schemes weren’t hidden, though.) Obviously the move was a surprise for some, but the good news came in the fact that current customers who had unlimited data would be able to keep it, as long as they kept their current plan. Like many other contract changes over the years, being able to be “grandfathered in” was a lifesaver to most.

That’s a good move. New customers get the tiered data, but your current users are saved the scorn of having a monthly limit. It looks like the good times are about to end, though, if this latest rumor pans out. Word on the street is that AT&T is looking to start throttling data for those users still on an unlimited data plan. Basically, if you hit a certain amount of data in a month, expect your download (and more than likely your upload, too) speeds to take a big hit. The specifics of the new plans are still unknown, and there’s no telling when AT&T will come forward with the changes – if the changes are real, of course.

This just seems to me like AT&T is punishing those who managed to stick to their old plans. Why? Because AT&T switched to tiered data to relieve some of the stress on its network, which no one can blame them for. All those iPhones and plenty of new Android-based handsets filling subscriber’s hands can put a strain on any network. But, the problem comes in that AT&T allowed people to get grandfathered into unlimited data, despite the plan changes. That’s a problem because all those iPhones, and some Android-powered devices, were already on the network, putting strain on it. So, really, the only thing AT&T did was make sure that more strain wasn’t applied to the network, but the situation the network was facing at the time wouldn’t really be alleviated.

So how do they fix that? Well, you can keep your unlimited data, sure, but there might be some strings attached soon. Specifically, like T-Mobile and Virgin Mobile, once you hit a specific amount of data per month, your speeds will be throttled. For data users that this will affect, that’s not good news at all. Obviously they stuck with their unlimited data plans because they needed it, and now to be punished for it just doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.

No, it won’t affect everyone on the unlimited data plan. If the plans do change and AT&T does initiate the data throttling, it will be targeted for the heavy data users. But, it’s the thought that counts, as the old saying goes. It could be worse, though: AT&T could just say that everyone has to switch to tiered data, no matter what. And, these are just rumors right now, so nothing is set in stone quite yet. There’s still an opportunity for this to just disappear, and go down as a scary moment that never came to fruition.