AT&T Officially Makes Unlimited Data Plans Not So Unlimited With New Throttling Rules

Welcome to the brave new world, everyone. AT&T announced today new guidelines in regards to older so-called unlimited data plans. Subscribers will still be able to keep these plans but they’re essentially limited to AT&T’s new 3GB/5GB data plans.

Let’s be clear: AT&T’s unlimited plans are now officially limited.

AT&T, like most other wireless carriers, started selling unlimited data plans several years ago to curb anxiety in regards to data usage. At that time, mobile data was still limited to email, web browsing and photo messaging. Streaming media was still very rare. These unlimited plans offered carriers’ marketers and salesmen an easy tool to get people to upgrade to smartphones. But now they’re supposedly killing the network — or so carriers would have consumers believe.

Today’s change essentially caps these legacy data plans at 3GB for HSPA+ and 5GB for LTE. Any overage will result in throttling, which as anyone who has been throttled before will attest, essentially kills data connectivity. Even mundane tasks as browsing the Internet are painfully slow. This cap remains in place until the end of the billing cycle. You will still have unlimited data, but on AT&T’s terms.

AT&T started throttling customers in 2011 in response to increased data usage. However, it was always somewhat shrouded in mystery. The policy was public, which caused misconceptions and confusion. The caps were also set at 2GB even after AT&T rolled out new, $30 3GB data plan. This new move by AT&T, while shady at best and a breach of contract at worst, at least puts the company’s policy in clear view. It even gives tips on how to better manage data.

However, as I stated previously, throttling subs on legacy products affects those nearing the end of their AT&T contracts. AT&T should be courting these people rather than driving them toward other carriers.