Broadband

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
fcc, ftc, net neutrality, throttling, title ii

Companies:
at&t



AT&T's Title II Tap Dance Fails To Derail FTC Throttling Lawsuit

from the Schrodinger's-carrier dept

Back in 2010, AT&T eliminated the company's unlimited data plans and began offering users only plans with usage caps and overage fees. While AT&T did "grandfather" existing unlimited wireless users at the time, it has been waging a not-so-subtle war on those users ever since in the attempt to get them to switch to more expensive plans. That has included at one point blocking video services from working unless users switched to metered plans (one of several examples worth remembering the next time someone tells you net neutrality is a "solution in search of a problem").

AT&T also switched some unlimited users to its metered plans without user consent, something the carrier received a whopping $700,000 FCC fine for in 2012. But the telco's primary weapon against these users has been to throttle these users to speeds of 128 to 528 kilobits per second should they use more than a few gigabytes of data in the hopes they'd switch to metered but unthrottled plans. AT&T was sued for the practice by the FTC in October of last year, the agency claiming AT&T violated the FTC Act by changing the terms of customers’ unlimited data plans while those customers were still under contract, and by "failing to adequately disclose the nature of the throttling program to consumers who renewed their unlimited data plans."

As we noted previously, AT&T tried a rather amusing defense to try and tap dance away from the lawsuit. It claimed that because the FCC was now classifying ISPs as common carriers under Title II, the FTC no longer had the authority to police AT&T actions under the FTC Act. In other words, AT&T hates Title II -- except when it allows them to skirt lawsuits for bad behavior. In a twenty-three page ruling (pdf), Judge Edward Chen says the law is "unambiguously clear" that only AT&T wireless voice, not wireless data, was classified as common carrier when the lawsuit was filed last fall:
"Contrary to what AT&T argues, the common carrier exception applies only where the entity has the status of common carrier and is actually engaging in common carrier activity."
In other words, no, AT&T can't have its cake (claim to loathe Title II with every shred of its being) and eat it too (run to Title II and common carrier protections when it suits it).

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 3 Apr 2015 @ 12:46pm

    AT&T and "free" upgrades.

    I got a call from AT&T today to try and get me to allow a "free upgrade" my business U-Verse account from 25mbps to 45mbps. After twisting the rep's arm a bit, it seems that the rate would go up about 75% for my internet service! I told him to fark off and leave me alone!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2015 @ 1:15pm

    Is that the right metric?

    "throttle these users to speeds of 128 to 528 kilobytes per second"

    um... that's between 1-5mbit - which by my standards (as a DSL customer) is pretty damn good still ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2015 @ 2:23pm

    Question: FCC or FTC

    Remaining truly "anonymous" (usually use a non-logged-in handle) for this one. Have a question.

    Walmart has a new phone plan through T-mobile. Unlimited everything for $40. There's small text (but no *) that it's only 3G for a Gig or 2. No mention of 2G. Basically, they're offering Unlimited 2G, w/ a temp bump up to 3G, without saying it's really Unlimited 2G* (* being limited G3). They just say it's Unlimited.

    Should I report this to the FCC, FTC or both? It's clearly deceptive. & may or may not be (depending on how you look at it) a case of throttling. It's definitely a bait & switch.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Chronno S. Trigger (profile), 3 Apr 2015 @ 3:41pm

      Re: Question: FCC or FTC

      I don't think that qualifies as an FCC or FTC violation, definitely not in the same way as AT&T. The fine print is there before you sign the contract. Hell, their sales people seem perfectly willing to tell people about this limitation. Probably because they offer "Truly Unlimited" for more than twice the price.

      AT&T got in trouble by changing the fine print after the contract was signed and without letting the other party know.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2015 @ 3:51pm

      Re: Question: FCC or FTC

      As a tmo customer - all the official TMobile ads I've seen are pretty clear that you get "1GB data" (or whatever you sign up for), and after that it is throttled.

      They also have some plans that are indeed limited to 1GB or 2GB and stop (with no overages).

      I don't think I've ever seen them say it's "unlimited" without also making it clear that once you hit your "cap" it does throttle down.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2015 @ 4:12pm

        Re: Re: Question: FCC or FTC

        And for the record, their calls and text do at least appear to be unlimited - unfortunately their coverage sucks ;)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 4 Apr 2015 @ 4:32pm

      Re: Question: FCC or FTC

      I agree with the other commenters that this doesn't seem to rise to the level of illegality, but thought I'd chime in with a rule of thumb: if your complaint is product misrepresentation or false advertising, the agency you want is the FTC.

      The FCC is more concerned with the actual operation of communications systems than they are with problems related to sales & marketing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.