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Yeah, About That “Unlimited” Data AT&T
By: Jennifer Graber
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Smartphone users know it is all about that data. Data is everything, because it takes data to do pretty much everything on a smartphone. And some of us are lucky enough to remember the days of mobile carriers offering unlimited data. Companies like AT&T and Verizon used to offer unlimited data packages like it was going out of style. Turns out, it did go out of style. A few years back mobile companies stopped offering those plans for new customers, and current customers were ‘grandfathered’ in.
Of course those who got to keep their unlimited data plans had some strings attached. Changing your phone or updating your plan meant that plan would go poof into oblivion. So, obviously, those who were able to keep their plans have protected those plans like Smeagol did his precious ring.
AT&T was one of the companies who allowed current customers to keep unlimited data. And when the company promised unlimited—it truly meant it. Unlimited data, in previous years, meant “unrestricted” for “as much use” as you wished at top speeds. Seems like a ‘duh’ moment when you consider the definition.
However, flash forward to 2011 when AT&T unlimited data customers began to complain to the FCC that “their data speed had been reduced.” Customers claimed that when  more than 3GB of 3G or 5GB of 4G data was used, “in a single billing cycle”, they started to see that reduction in speed. Customers also complained that AT&T was about as clear as mud in its policy terms. The company had evidently implemented a “maximum bit rate” policy that was not clearly highlighted or spelled out. Customers also faced high fees for service discontinuation.
The FCC began to conduct an investigation into the claims against AT&T. The FCC found evidence that the claims against the mobile carrier were, in fact, true. AT&T, naturally, disputes the investigation findings saying that it was transparent to its customers. But the FCC says that is not the case at all. The investigation ruled that terms and conditions “were not clear enough” and that customers deserve to get what they pay for—not an abbreviated or second-rate version of service.
Unfortunately for AT&T the FCC has fined the company to the tune of $100 million dollars. Ouch. That will certainly teach AT&T to take a peek into the dictionary to see what unlimited truly means. Verizon and T-Mobile have received similar, but not financially threatening, warnings. And Tracfone has faced fines—all for similar practices that AT&T uses. Evidently the examples that came before were not enough of a warning for the mobile company. Hopefully this is a good warning for AT&T, and other companies, to really examine policies and services in the manner that the customer views them.


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About the Author
Jennifer Graber is a Business Development Manager and marketing enthusiast. Her specific interests include branding, consumer behavior, development, integrated marketing communications, and new & social media.
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