Early 5G Plans Show Cell Carriers Haven't Learned Much About Misleading 'Unlimited' Plans

from the ill-communication dept

A little more than 12 years ago, Verizon was forced to strike an agreement with the New York State Attorney General for marketing data plans as “unlimited” when the plans had very clear limits. Carriers have received numerous subsequent wrist slaps for the practice in the decade since, but none of these lessons appear to have gotten through.

Case in point: Verizon recently launched its first ever 5G hotspot for use on the company’s barely available 5G network. To use it, you’ll need to pony up $650, which is three to four times higher than the cost most pay for a comparable 4G hotspot. From there, you’ll need to pay Verizon $85 per month for an “unlimited” 5G data plan, which is roughly $10 more per month than a comparable 4G plan. And of course, this being Verizon, the company’s “unlimited” data plan is not really unlimited:

“Verizon said hotspot-only plans “start at $85 a month (plus taxes and fees).” Verizon describes the $85-per-month hotspot plan as “unlimited” when you go through the online checkout process. But the fine print states that customers get 50GB of high-speed 5G data, and 5G speeds are reduced to 3Mbps after that. The plan treats 5G and 4G data separately; it provides 15GB of high-speed 4G data and slows users down to 600kbps after that. Verizon allows 4K video streaming on 5G, while limiting video on the 4G network to 720p.”

Oh yeah, that’s not confusing at all. And speeds of 600 kbps and 3 Mbps are a pretty far cry from what anybody would consider “next-generation” (technically they don’t even meet the FCC’s 25 Mbps standard definition of broadband).

Carriers tap dance around criticism by suggesting that the data plan is technically unlimited because your data line will always work — albeit at reduced speeds. But that long list of caveats is still very clearly “limits” by any modern understanding of the word. Carriers should have simply stopped using the word years ago, but because there was no real penalty outside of a wrist slap for misleading customers as to the limits on these connections, the behavior simply never stopped. Consumers like the simplicity of “unlimited” data. Cell carriers like to pretend they’re providing it.

With the erosion of FCC authority and elimination of net neutrality protections, it’s likely all of this is going to only get dumber should this looming lawsuit against the FCC go the industry’s way (a ruling there is expected pretty much any day now). There’s now no real penalty if an ISP wants to dramatically mislead consumers as to restrictions placed on a consumer’s line, just as long as they bury a complicated explanation somewhere deep in their TOS. And more than a decade after carriers were first criticized for marketing “unlimited” data plans with very real limits, we appear to have made little to no real progress.

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Companies: verizon

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Comments on “Early 5G Plans Show Cell Carriers Haven't Learned Much About Misleading 'Unlimited' Plans”

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Defective by Design says:

LMAO at Verizon "allowing" 4K streaming at 5G. It may be allowed, but you damn well better not take advantage of the ability. At roughly 7GB/hour you’d get through 4, maybe 5 movies if they’re shorter before you depleted your monthly allotment of high speed data.

This just goes to prove that data limits aren’t about traffic/congestion management but profit maximization. If they haven the bandwidth to provide 4K streams, why pair it with such a wimpy "unlimited" data cap unless the endgame is to over an "unlimited+" plan at twice the price to remove the completely arbitrary cap?

TruthHurts says:

Time for an FTC throwdown....

The FTC should step in and force every entity using the term "unlimited" to remove any and all limitations to their services without increasing the price of said services. No caps, no slow-downs.

The FTC should also step in to the "up to ####Mbps" advertising and force the advertisers to keep the "minimum" Mbps to within 10% of the "up to" MBps. Failure to maintain that minimum to each and every one of their customers will result in the provider being fined for 100x the fee they charged, payable to the customer, for every day they don’t provide that minimum.

The FTC should also force service providers to make the "advertised" price includes any and all fees, charges, taxes, etc..
— The advertised price is what you pay, period.

That should fix their little red wagons…

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Time for an FTC throwdown....

As I always say when this suggestion comes up – Local throttling (a slow down) when immediate local demand outstrips bandwidth is not a violation of a claim of Unlimited. The throttling prevents packet loss and prevents that packet loss or corruption from redering the service useless. Some might say let the congestion slow the network down naturally, but the natural slow downs resulting from congestion are not smart handling of data, but rather a symptom of the system being unable to handle the data correctly. This would lead to some people seeing little effect and some people effectively losing service on either end of the bell curve of packet loss. Smart handling of data, genuine network management, would serve to allow everyone to do what they want, albeit more slowly, and eliminate much of the randomness that allowing natural packet loss to handle congestion would lead to.

No, allow local throttling in those events. How we do that, by a person’s overall volume of data use, throttling the most bandwidth intensive users in the moment, across the board throttling, ect. is up for debate. And require upgrades in areas that have constant congestion. But no throttling in any situation is a frankly untenable position

TFG says:

Re: Re: Time for an FTC throwdown....

While I don’t know how the technology itself actually works, what I’d say would be actual reasonable network management would involve throttling only when the local area network as a whole is under heavy load.

If it’s Unlimited, you should not be able to throttle based on total data usage in a billing period. You should not be able to throttle based on service or program used. You should not be able to throttle 4k streaming because it’s 4k streaming.

You should only be able to throttle because the total network load in an area has reached a specific transparent threshold.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Time for an FTC throwdown....

I don’t disagree with you in general. The entire point i was making was that throttling when in the moment demand on the local towers is over a certain threshold is almost mandatory to maintain service quality to all users at equal performance, but I must point out:

If it’s Unlimited, you should not be able to throttle based on total data usage in a billing period. You should not be able to throttle based on service or program used.

Sounds good, you are arguing against the ability to base that throttling on billing period usage or in the moment level of usage, instead seemingly arguing for some level of across the board throttling, until this:

You should not be able to throttle 4k streaming because it’s 4k streaming.

This sentence is strangely worded. I read it at first as you can’t throttle 4k streaming because otherwise it isn’t 4k streaming. And that made little sense, as it bars across the board throttling. I reread while writing this and realized it could be read to say that you cant throttle a 4k stream on the basis that it is 4k. Which then throws out my interpretation of the rest of the paragraph.

We seem to agree about when throttling is appropriate, but the tone of your response suggests disagreement with my position. I can only assume you misunderstood my position about debating how we throttle. As I originally stated I agree with you that the basis for throttling should only be managing the local network demand. However, I argue that how we choose to throttle when that threshold is reached is a subject for debate. For instance, you could argue that the overall heaviest data users perhaps could be throttled, prioritizing those who use less data. Or you could argue that throttling a 4k stream releases much more bandwidth than throttling someone surfing Techdirt, and so throttling the former makes much more sense than the latter. Or that such decisions are not the telco’s to make, and so it should just be an even throttling of all connections. None of these questions discuss when we throttle, but how we throttle connections to bring demand in line with capacity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Time for an FTC throwdown....

For the most part, the two of you appear to be arguing different topics that both include throttling.

But the comment about throttling 4K is one where there are going to be multiple conflicting views: the one argument is: "You shouldn’t be throttling bandwidth based on what the customer is using it for." This makes sense for raw data; otherwise it’s really a case of censorship of services.

On the other hand, mobile devices generally can’t display any resolution higher than 1080p. So throttling a 4k stream back to 1080p makes sense, as the network is freeing up massive amounts of general bandwidth with no loss of service to anyone.

However, if you’ve got a wireless AP that’s hooked up to, say, a 4K Smart TV, that’s going to suck. And the ISP has no way to know what endpoint device is being used, nor should they.

So while these types of bandwidth tweaks can improve things for the majority of customers and for the ISP, they depend on judgement calls that shouldn’t be allowed to be made by an intermediary.

Instead of outright throttling, it would make more sense to have some mechanism whereby the end user could choose to have their 4K streams downsampled in cases of network congestion. In fact, most streaming servers already do this server-side, so the ISP doesn’t even have to worry about it.

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Time for an FTC throwdown....

@James: I wasn’t necessarily intending to disagree with you, more trying to expand on what is and isn’t acceptable (in my view) for throttling. The statement you called out as wierdly worded was indeed intended as your second reading:

4k streaming should not be throttled solely on the basis of it being 4k. If there was an additional justification, such as overall network congestion, then sure, let’s step down the largest-bandwidth hogs at that time.

Or, in the case that the AC brings up, you’re trying to do a 4K stream but the device in question can’t display higher than 1080p – go ahead and step it down to maximum display. This, however, also requires the system be able to identify the capabilities of the device – what it’s a 4K stream to a laptop that’s tethered or connected to the hotspot, and which can, in fact, display 4K?

I guess what it comes down to, and what we agree on, is that the definition of "Reasonable Network Management" should not be solely determined by those with a vested interest in abusing that definition for profit.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Time for an FTC throwdown....

Or, in the case that the AC brings up, you’re trying to do a 4K stream but the device in question can’t display higher than 1080p – go ahead and step it down to maximum display.

The ISP can’t actually do that. They can throttle the bit rate, and then it’s up to the streaming provider to detect that and adjust the resolution. If the stream doesn’t do that, I don’t know what the effect would be. Probably severe buffering.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Time for an FTC throwdown....

Local throttling (a slow down) when immediate local demand outstrips bandwidth is not a violation of a claim of Unlimited. The throttling prevents packet loss

Umm… how do you think "slowdown" is implemented, if not by dropping packets? ECN was not widely deployed last I checked.

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Re: Truth comes from the Top

Your fanboy devotion is showing. Might want to run what el Cheetos says thru some fact checks. I’d never say he is completely dishonest – but it’s fair to say he can’t tell fact from fiction.

If Trump lies every day to the press (and it is pretty well documented that he does) – that sends a clear message to big business to follow his lead.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Stupid flows from blues balls

Dawwww, are you still convinced that that’s Tim? You know in my profession we call that:https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paranoid_schizophrenia

Any five year old who’s not suffering delusions could tell you they are two different people. Some days I feel pity for you with your obviously untreated mental illness. Today, however, is not one of those days.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Truth comes from the Top

(via UrbanDictionary)

Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) is a mental condition in which a person has been driven effectively insane due to their love of Donald Trump, to the point they will abandon all logic and reason.

Symptoms for this condition can be very diverse, ranging from racist or xenophobic outbursts to a complete disconnection from reality. TDS can also often result in the sufferer exhibiting violent, homicidal, or even genocidal desires, particularly against residents from foreign countries.

Sufferers have also been known to wish direct self-harm on themselves (such as increased tariffs, a desire for tax cuts heavily favoring corporations and the 1%, infringement of first amendment rights, and even the destruction of NATO for comrade Putin), provided that action was initiated by Donald Trump.

Paranoia is also a common symptom of TDS. Sufferers have been known to believe that they are in some way being persecuted when their Trump related beliefs are questioned, and in some cases believe they are about to be a victim of an immigrant related crime. The paranoia does however not seem to be bad enough to make TDS sufferers attempt to actually becoming informed and think for themselves.

If properly treated, suffers of TDS can make a full recovery. Many suffers have been known to grow out of TDS, yet many can only be treated by having their condition directly treated through the application of logical reasoning. It is also known that products containing mole can exacerbate the condition.

"Did you hear what Billy said the other day? He was saying how the US is being overrun by murderers and rapists from Mexico?!?"

"Yeah I know.. he has a serious case of TDS.."

"What’s that?"

"Trump Derangement Syndrome"

"Is it treatable?"

"I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be."

"Wait, I meant to say ‘I can’t see any reason why it would be.’ Logical reasoning is kryptonite to Trump Flakes."

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s not so much cell phones as it is the distribute Over The Air network that cell-towers offer. Traditional wifi or wired connections are extremely localized. To use basic wifi for command and control purposes would require you set up a whole bunch of hubs in the forests… which is not a tenable solution.

Satellite uplink is certainly a method for being able to have connectivity from basically anywhere, but that has its own issues (latency, signal interference from trees, etc.).

Cellular network connectivity, on the other hand, apparently reaches where the firefighters need it to reach. More than likely the systems they are using that enhance their coordination potential require the data stream that a 4G connection can provide, and has significant advantages over your older, far more basic, radio communication solutions.

I’m sure walkie-talkies and radio are still used for communication between individuals and units, but the connection that got throttled was specifically the actual mobile Command and Control HQ.

ECA (profile) says:

"Tech companies are promising a lot from 5G. While 4G tops out at a theoretical 100 megabits per second (Mbps), 5G tops out at 10 gigabits per second (Gbps). That means 5G is a hundred times faster than the current 4G technology—at its theoretical maximum speed, anyway."

"The new standard will use a whole new band of radio spectrum from 4G. 5G will take advantage of “millimeter waves”, broadcast at frequencies between 30 and 300 GHz versus the bands below 6 GHz that were used in the past. These were previously only used for communication between satellites and radar systems. But millimeter waves can’t easily travel through buildings or other solid objects, so 5G will also take advantage of “small cells”—smaller miniature based stations that can be placed about every 250 meters throughout dense urban areas. These would provide much better coverage in such locations."

Dense Urban?? get a hint..there will be Antenna in every City building, and REQUIRE the inside to be covered also..
This is getting real silly. a high powered signal, and a coverage area DENSE enough to be able to over lap, is going to be Filled with problems..

51402kbps for a 1080@30fps video from YT..51mbps.. and you will get 50giga bites for the first part.. lets figure this simple…you MIGHT get 1 high res movie. At most, if if sized for your Phone, Not your 4k TV..5-8 movies.. I think its around 163 minutes?? at 1080.. Good luck..

I can top out a 400gig limit with 1 computer in a month. A family of 4, tablets, phones, 3 TV, and roku…EASILY kills 400gig.. for home use. and this has problems going through walls??


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