Future Tense

AT&T May Owe $100 Million for Selling Unlimited Data Plans That Weren’t Actually Unlimited

Randall Stephenson, chairman and CEO of AT&T.

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The Federal Communications Commission intends to fine AT&T $100 million for misleading customers about the unlimited data plans it sells. How were they misled? Well, it turns out that the unlimited data AT&T marketed to millions of customers had some, er, limits on it. Specifically, AT&T “severely slowed down the data speeds for customers with unlimited data plans” and “failed to adequately notify its customers that they could receive speeds slower than the normal network speeds AT&T advertised,” the FCC says in a release. Surprise!

This isn’t the first time that regulators have cried foul over AT&T’s unlimited data practices. In October the Federal Trade Commission sued the mobile carrier for exactly this. At the time, the FTC noted that AT&T routinely cut data speeds on devices with unlimited plans by 60 to 95 percent after they’d used as little as 2 GB in a billing period. The result? “Many everyday applications, such as web browsing, GPS navigation, and streaming video are significantly slower, and in some cases are severely impaired or rendered practically inoperable,” the FTC wrote.

In both that case and this latest one, AT&T is dismissing the allegations as baseless. “We will vigorously dispute the FCC’s assertions,” a spokesman told Bloomberg. “We have been fully transparent with our customers.”

The FCC, on the other hand, says millions of AT&T customers had their data speeds reduced for an average of 12 days per billing cycle and that AT&T’s disclosures were “not sufficient” for customers to “make informed decisions” about its data offerings. “Unlimited means unlimited,” says Travis LeBlanc, the FCC’s enforcement bureau chief. So it would seem—unless you’re AT&T.