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AT&T Threatens To Shut Off Service of Customer Who Won Throttling Case 327

suraj.sun writes in about the recent small claims case against AT&T's throttling of 'unlimited' plans. From the article: "AT&T has about 17 million smartphone customers on 'unlimited' plans, and has started slowing down service for users who hit certain traffic thresholds. Spaccarelli maintained at his February 24 small-claims hearing that AT&T broke its promise to provide 'unlimited' service, and the judge agreed. In a letter dated Friday, a law firm retained by AT&T Inc. is threatening to shut off Matthew Spaccarelli's phone service if he doesn't sit down to talk. Spaccarelli has posted online the documents he used to argue his case and encourages other AT&T customers copy his suit."
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AT&T Threatens To Shut Off Service of Customer Who Won Throttling Case

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  • Duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @12:32PM (#39353953)

    I have no love for AT&T and I'm glad the guy won, but if one of my customers sued me, I'd drop them in a heartbeat!

  • by stevegee58 ( 1179505 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @12:37PM (#39354041) Journal
    He violated his terms of use with AT&T by accessing the internet tethered. That violation alone warrants termination.
  • Re:Duh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by whatkey ( 2514316 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @12:40PM (#39354091)
    Seriously? I hope you don't own a company that solely generates revenue from long and short-term contracts. Your customer demands you live up to the terms of your own contract, you lose in a court case, and then you (potentially) illegally breach the contract again? Nice. I hope everyone threatens AT&T. I work in the telecom industry, and "most people" only know the tip of the iceberg about AT&T...
  • Re:Disclosure. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by webheaded ( 997188 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @12:46PM (#39354163) Homepage
    I do have a right for words to be used properly though don't I? The word unlimited means that there are no know UN-LIMITED. If they want to sell plans based on bandwidth, then just do it. All the other carriers do. If I go to T-Mobile right now, they tell me I can get different tiers of data at high speeds and after I hit my limit, I get bumped down to 2G. It's called, not lying. AT&T should try it some time.

    Of course the whole idea of limiting our bandwidth is fucking ridiculous to me, but that is a different discussion that I'm not going to bother with right now.
  • Re:Duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by magarity ( 164372 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @12:47PM (#39354179)

    and I'm glad the guy won

    I for one wonder why he won; he admits to sucking down the bandwidth due to tethering which is a clear violation of the terms of service he signed up for as part of getting unlimited bandwidth. If he'd used it all watching videos and whatever else you can do with just the phone itself, I'd be completely supportive. But are all the people complaining about ATT throttling them using so much due to tethering? If so, I've suddenly lost all interest and sympathy. Here I thought all the complaints were from people using their phones' internal capabilities and getting cut off.

  • by spire3661 ( 1038968 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @01:06PM (#39354451) Journal
    The problem is that wireless spectrum is owned BY THE PEOPLE, we lease it to these companies. It is this fact alone that moves telecomms from ordinary companies to necessary infrastructure, subject to special rules and regulations. We should be HAMMERING wireless with regulation right now. I have a problem with a corporation, denying access to PUBLICLY OWNED airwaves because he is taking them to task legally.
  • Re:Duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tripleevenfall ( 1990004 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @01:08PM (#39354485)

    AT&T isn't really advertising falsely, the data is unlimited. The speeds are limited.

    They should be ordered to clarify their advertising and say "3G speed up to 2GB" or similar.

  • Re:Disclosure. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SecurityGuy ( 217807 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @01:14PM (#39354559)

    The issue is not that they were unclear, it's that they LIED about it.

    I have an iPhone. I have an unlimited data plan. I expect that means whenever I try to use it, AT&T will not impose limits on how much of that data I use. Now, there are a couple ways they might limit me. They could impose a cap after which I get zero data. They don't do that. They could restrict my data rate after I reach some threshold. They DO that. I know some people don't get that it's a limit, but it is, especially if they're throttling you to 1% of your normal speed. That's a cut off in all but name.

    I'm not saying AT&T needs to provide me a Gb/s or infinite bandwidth, but if they sell me an "unlimited" plan, I should be able to get whatever their network is technically capable of delivering whenever I ask for it. I can accept that it may be slow if 10,000 other people are on the same pipe. That is not AT&T limiting me. When AT&T singles me out for using too much data on an unlimited plan and artificially restricts how much more data I can use, that's a limit, plain and simple.

    The part that really galls me is how aggressively they advertised these things. Come and get an iPhone, they said. Browse the web! Stream music and video! The entire intarwebz are at your fingertips! NOW they want to back away from that. No. Honor your contracts, AT&T.

  • Re:Duh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by naasking ( 94116 ) <naasking@gmail. c o m> on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @01:21PM (#39354667) Homepage

    AT&T isn't really advertising falsely, the data is unlimited. The speeds are limited.

    Which means the data is effectively limited as well. If you sell "unlimited plans" and then throttle speeds to the point where downloading 24/7 for a month will only net you 1GB of data, that's not very unlimited is it?

  • Re:Duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @01:23PM (#39354701) Homepage Journal

    All these "unlimited" hosting plans have been scams from day-1 and we're glad someone is finally getting held to task for the dumbing down of the market.

    I have an unlimited hosting plan from DreamHost, and it has always worked quite well for me (currently in my second or third year, I forget). It works because they pay attention to what you're doing and assign you to a server based on how you use the service, e.g. poor-performing WordPress instances live in a festering cesspool all to themselves so that their search doesn't cause half-minute delays on other sites, static-only or nearly static-only sites are on servers with other static-only sites, high-bandwidth sites get sandboxed away from low-bandwidth sites, they limit the number of sites per Apache instance, etc. To be fair, if a site uses excessive CPU, they may ask them to move to a virtual private server, so I suppose it's not quite unlimited, but at least where bandwidth and storage are concerned, it is, and that's what most people mean when they call a hosting provider "unlimited".

    As always, YMMV.

  • Re:Duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @01:46PM (#39355063)

    Which is what we're talking about here...

    Since they don't CLEARLY disclose that it's "unlimited data" in their advertising, it's misleading at best. This is why they lost the damn lawsuit- you can't advertise it one way and then take it basically away in the fine print- that's called bait-and-switch and it's illegal.

    I honestly wish people would QUIT trying to follow the weaseling that the companies use- the law is rather explicit on this subject,

    "Unlimited" means just that- that they're not limiting the use of the resource to it's fullest. "Unlimited data" isn't even accurate as they're actually limiting just how much data you can consume by throttling. So, folks, QUIT running that one up the flagpole. Doesn't match the reality of things. Doesn't match their requirements per law.

  • Re:Duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <`gameboyrmh' `at' `'> on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @01:53PM (#39355181) Journal

    You are wrong, but at the same time it's true that unlimited isn't truly unlimited. Here's how it works.

    Say you're on a "true unlimited" monthly data plan, and you get a download speed of 100kbps. You're actually buying 1 month's worth of data @ 100kbps, or about 259gb. Now that number is not infinity but that's what people expect when you say unlimited - unlimited data at the advertised speed, the only limitation being time itself. If you offer a 100kbps plan that doesn't let you download 259gb per month, and call it unlimited, that's when people will feel that they've been lied to. There is not only the natural limitation of time, but also you're not delivering the advertised speed.

  • Re:Duh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BradleyUffner ( 103496 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @01:56PM (#39355213) Homepage

    AT&T isn't really advertising falsely, the data is unlimited. The speeds are limited.

    Which means the data is effectively limited as well. If you sell "unlimited plans" and then throttle speeds to the point where downloading 24/7 for a month will only net you 1GB of data, that's not very unlimited is it?

    So by that bizarre logic, you're suggesting that ATT is legally obligated to ensure they can sustain 100% of theoretically possible 3G bandwidth at every possible location in their network where there is any viable signal at all?

    They are obligated to provide what they advertise. If they can't provide it, they shouldn't advertise it.

  • Re:Duh? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by simtel ( 798974 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @01:58PM (#39355243)
    I think it's more "don't artificially limit it via per-user throttles".
  • Re:Duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by khallow ( 566160 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @02:01PM (#39355289)

    So by that bizarre logic, you're suggesting that ATT is legally obligated to ensure they can sustain 100% of theoretically possible 3G bandwidth at every possible location in their network where there is any viable signal at all?

    I must agree. If they didn't want to fall under that bizarre logic, then they should advertise as such.

  • Re:Disclosure. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Svartalf ( 2997 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @02:17PM (#39355517) Homepage

    The part where the judge agreed that no tethering was an arbitrary limit on the service they sold as unlimited, and was therefore null and void?

    Heh... It utterly amazes me how many people buy into things begin legit, just because a company put it in the contract- and how few understand any aspects of contract law, but will say, "it's in the contract or terms of service," and therefore claim the company's in the rights. Especially here.

  • Re:Duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @02:27PM (#39355691)

    Tethering is equivalent to the "3rd party handset or device" restriction that was considered so onerous back in the 60s and 70s.

    Basically the phone company said "to ensure quality service, we need to prohibit unlicensed devices from being connected to the telephine network."

    It was shot down at the end of the 70s, which is why you can attach answering machines, caller ID readers, and cheap chineese phones.

    Tethering is the same principle: attaching an "unaproved" device (computer) to their network.

    This is exactly in line with the gp's argument about 2nd chances to change the law.

    The "it degrades our network!" Line didn't hold up then, it shouldn't hold up now. Last I checked, a bit originating from a computer instead of a phone was not directly deleterious to any hardware in a cellular network. You could argue that tetherers use more bandwidth, but that is an ancilliary argument. Tethering itself (what is forbidden) does not harm their cellular network in any way. Transmitting excessive data, which is not what is forbidden, is what causes QoS harm.

  • by DRJlaw ( 946416 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @02:36PM (#39355813)

    In TFA, it is stated that AT&T's threat to discontinue his service is based on his admission of tethering, which is against the TOS he agreed to. Not that their tactics here aren't shady, but they do have a contractual basis (excuse) for the threat.

    Two problems: 1. Terminating the contract is not going to nullify the money he was awarded for AT&T's violation of the original contract. He didn't get a judgment that forced AT&T to provide him with unlimited data, so terminating the contract only serves to release him from the obligation to pay for a capped service that he quite clearly dislikes. AT&T is presuming that he wants to remain an AT&T customer. Since TFA says that he doesn't care.. 2. Thousands of others have tethered their phones, and AT&T's response has been not to terminate their service, but to require them to buy the approved tethering package. While the language of the contract may permit termination for violation of the TOS, AT&T has likely waived termination as a remedy for this sort of violation through its own announcements and actions. If AT&T terminates the contract and attempts to impose a termination fee, expect a second small claims case where there's a reasonable likelihood that AT&T loses. "Settle with us or we'll kick you out of our lousy service and appeal (without being able to introduce new evidence or arugment)" isn't much of a threat. The internet is rife with people looking for "material changes" in their contract in order to escape without paying an ETF, and he's only risking an $850 'paper' loss of his original award.

  • Re:Duh? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ooshna ( 1654125 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @02:45PM (#39355945)

    A cap due to technical restrictions is different from a cap with artificial restrictions. I don't hear anyone complaining about cable companies that advertise unlimited data but only give them close to the advertised speeds.

  • Re:Duh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by YojimboJango ( 978350 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @03:45PM (#39356759)

    Straw man. Unlimited != Full speed all the time. Unlimited means that they're not limiting it. Your basement walls limit it and that's fine. Cosmic radiation limits it, and that's fine. Your other users clog up the spectrum and that's a grey area; maybe it's fine if you're making an effort to up the transmitters in the area, and maybe it's not if you're cutting costs by taking them down.

    If you're paying money for software and hardware to limit, it's no longer unlimited. That is what they're doing.

  • Re:Duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HapSlappy_2222 ( 1089149 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @03:50PM (#39356811)
    If I go into a restaurant that advertises "all I can eat!" it means I can eat as much as I want, until I cannot or do not want to eat any more. If I'm a little dude, this will be far less than if I'm a big dude, but the restaurant shouldn't be allowed to prepare food for the buffet more slowly if a fat bunch of folks blunders through the doors. If they do, is it really "All you can eat"? No, it's "eat all that we're willing to bring you."

    As far as inviting customers into a buffet type purchase... well, even the unlikely scenario of having just one single person consume ALL of the restaurant's resources is the risk of advertising an all-you-can-eat buffet. The risk is hedged against the very powerful advertising draw of a "limitless" purchase. What the owner is hoping for is the overall average of food consumed/person will be profitable. At the very least, the restaurant should inform customers that after x plates of food they can only have x more plates of food per hour, and let them decide if the price is worth it. But look what just happened! Our restaurant lost the draw of the "limitless" at the expense of hemming their (larger) customers in. When selling stuff, you can't have it both ways.

    This is what AT&T (and others) have been advertising their "Unlimited" plans as. "Use as much data as you want; hell, glut yourself on it!! Err.... unless you're identified as a data glutton, in which case you have to consume your unlimited data no faster than we're willing to arbitrarily provide it.". Slowing the speeds artificially after a customer consumes an arbitrary amount of data is the issue. You cannot do this and still attempt to advertise the plan as "Unlimited". Nobody's asking AT&T to provide both unlimited speeds and unlimited data; we're simply asking them to allow us to use all the data we want, at the advertised rate, or to stop marketing the plan as "Unlimited" entirely, because it's not.

    Now I'm hungry, and yes, I'm blaming AT&T for that, too. Dammit.

The biggest difference between time and space is that you can't reuse time. -- Merrick Furst