Verizon Quietly Backs Off Throttling 'Unlimited' Wireless Customers, But Only After It No Longer Matters

from the limited-unlimited dept

In July of 2011, Verizon announced it would no longer offer its wireless users unlimited data plans, and instead began pushing more expensive and capped shared data plans (complete with shiny $15 per gigabyte overage fees!). While Verizon did grandfather existing unlimited customers, like AT&T, it immediately began waging a quiet war on these users, throttling these purportedly “unlimited” connections to try and drive these users toward pricier metered options.

In Verizon’s case, the company started by throttling unlimited customers on its 3G network. When Verizon Wireless announced in 2014 it was going to start applying these “network optimization” practices to its LTE 4G network, the company received a surprise wrist slap by FCC boss Tom Wheeler, who warned the company that he saw through its use of congestion to drive revenue:

“Reasonable network management” concerns the technical management of your network; it is not a loophole designed to enhance your revenue streams. It is disturbing to me that Verizon Wireless would base its “network management” on distinctions among its customers’ data plans, rather than on network architecture or technology.”

As we frequently note, phantom network congestion has long been a useful bogeyman to defend predatory or otherwise anti-competitive behavior in telecom. In Verizon’s case, the company responded to the FCC by effectively claiming that everybody was doing it, something that didn’t sit well with Wheeler in a follow up warning to the company just about a year ago:

“‘All the kids do it’ was never something that worked with me when I was growing up and it didn?t work with my kids,? Wheeler told reporters on Friday. Wheeler said that response wasn?t good enough to calm his concerns that the company was trying to milk users for more profit. “My concern in this instance is that it is moving from engineering and technological issues into business issues,? he said.

Verizon ultimately decided to scrap its plans to throttle unlimited LTE users, and the FCC proceeded to pass tougher new net neutrality rules in February of this year. AT&T, in contrast, tried to push its luck, and continued throttling unlimited users until it received a $100 million FCC fine (which AT&T is still fighting) and was socked with an FTC lawsuit for false advertising (which AT&T is also still fighting). Verizon, meanwhile, quietly continued throttling its unlimited 3G users — until only just last week. Verizon “announced” the changes in a bit of fine print on the Verizon website:

“Beginning in 2011,” it reads, “to optimize our network, we managed data connection speeds for a small subset of customers ? those who are in the top 5% of data users and have 3G devices on unlimited data plans ? and only in places and at times when the network was experiencing high demand. We discontinued this practice in June, 2015.”

And by “optimize its network,” Verizon means “optimize its revenues.” In speaking to the Washington Post, Verizon claims this was just a run of the mill business decision, made because it impacted so few customers:

“We make business decisions all the time,” Verizon said in a statement to the Post. “Because it was such a small subset of customers who were affected [by the 3G throttling], we made the call to discontinue even a limited approach to managing data connection speeds.”

Right, well, it’s only now such a small subset of customers because Verizon drove them all to metered, LTE plans already. But basically, Verizon was allowed for four years to advertise a product falsely as “unlimited,” and to use network congestion as bogus justification for driving its users to more expensive plans — with little more than a wrist slap. With the net neutrality rules now in effect (you know, the ones that were supposed to have destroyed the Internet by now) there’s some basic protections in place for consumers moving forward.

But with AT&T and Verizon’s history of outright fraud and misleading consumers, and network gear getting ever more sophisticated, enforcement is going to require that the FCC remain uncharacteristically tough and attentive. And that’s no given; as noted recently usage caps similarly use the congestion bogeyman to drive revenue and raise consumer rates, but the FCC has remained notably mute on the subject.

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Companies: verizon

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Comments on “Verizon Quietly Backs Off Throttling 'Unlimited' Wireless Customers, But Only After It No Longer Matters”

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Anonymous Coward says:

"it is not a loophole"

Does that apply to OSI layer 4 as well? The cable cabal has been intentionally cornholing normal TCP functionality on specific ports for over a decade now, and calling it “network management”. And that is BEFORE we start talking about DNS hijacking, which is essentially systematic fraud in the guise of “network management”.

It is really hard to understand the juvenile short term psychology that led to this situation. These companies have capital to LEAD markets, instead they resort to the telecom equivelant of date rape. There is plenty of market space for them to expand into. They CHOOSE not to.

Hopefully we are going to end up looking at a Glass–Steagall like set of regs for carriers to keep them out of the public knickers. You can be a carrier, or a content provider but NOT both. Like you can be in banking, or real estate, but NOT both. You can get drunk or screw, but NOT both.

It is a simple principle that fathers teach their sons, in order to keep them on the friendly side of the neighbors shotgun. Really the SEC is the one who needs to be jealous of the public virtue here. But I’m glad to see someone is taking notice.

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