In late September, I got a message from AT&T on my phone. I’d been using too much data, and if I went over the limit, I’d be experiencing decreased speeds. I mostly ignored the message considering I pay for an unlimited data plan, but the phone provider followed through with its threat. For the last couple weeks of the month, download speeds were horrendous. It became increasingly difficult to stream Spotify or podcasts, or even to accomplish simple tasks like checking email.
It’s a first-world problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. It’s also a representation of AT&T’s deceit, an attempt to backtrack on a promise that iPhone subscribers with unlimited data plans would be grandfathered in despite a change in data plan policy. The company is now facing a federal lawsuit from the F.T.C., and hopefully AT&T will be forced to pay a large settlement for its deceitful tactics.
The FTC should also be applauded for attempting to penalize a communications company for misleading its customers. “AT&T promised its customers unlimited data, and in many instances it has failed to deliver on that promise,” said FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez, according to the New York Times. “The issue here is simple: ‘Unlimited’ means unlimited.”
AT&T claims that it was upfront with its change in policy, issuing bill statements and press releases picked up by the national press. Yet the move is an obvious attempt to capitalize on the widespread popularity of smartphones, particularly the iPhone. When the iPhone first launched, AT&T was the sole service provider. Many customers signed up for unlimited data plans which, despite changes in policy for new subscribers, are supposed to remain intact today. If data speeds are throttled,
Although net neutrality no longer dominates the national discussion, the FTC’s case against AT&T is an important reminder of how communication companies have a stronghold over consumers’ data speeds and access to the Internet. With proposed mergers between Comcast and Time Warner as well as AT&T and DirecTV, the power of communications companies is only becoming more consolidated. More consolidation means more of a threat to the rights of consumers, and an easier way of working with deceit. It’s encouraging that the federal agency is fighting for consumers’ rights, and hopefully the case progresses further.