Clauses in AT&T Contracts Have Always Provided for Limits on 'Unlimited' Data Plans

A number of customers have expressed outrage and disappointment at AT&T's various efforts at throttling users with older "unlimited" data plans. The most recent change slows unlimited data users to download speeds of 256 Kbps after using 3GB of data.

Several Twitter users felt that AT&T was violating their contract and wanted to cancel their contract or file a class action lawsuit against the company. Blogger Jeff Jarvis feels that throttling is "fraud", and tech writer Matt Buchanan had this to say:

I think it's fair to expect the contract you signed up for remains the contract you signed up for.

But is AT&T's throttling of unlimited data users a violation of its contract with users? TOSBack is a website that tracks changes to the terms of service of various services, including both Apple and AT&T.

The contract from June 26, 2007 -- just a few days before the original iPhone went on sale -- includes a number of stipulations governing exactly how and why the iPhone's unlimited data plan can be restricted, including banning some video downloading and streaming. Most importantly, for customers now experiencing throttling, is this passage:

AT&T reserves the right to (i) limit throughput or amount of data transferred, deny Service and/or terminate Service, without notice, to anyone it believes is using the Service in any manner prohibited above or whose usage adversely impacts its wireless network or service levels or hinders access to its wireless network.


Language similar to this continues in every draft of the contract through today's version. The current wireless customer agreement includes this language in section 6.2:

AT&T reserves the right to (i) deny, disconnect, modify and/or terminate Service, without notice, to anyone it believes is using the Service in any manner prohibited or whose usage adversely impacts its wireless network or service levels or hinders access to its wireless network.

AT&T believes that it is well within its rights to throttle users on unlimited data plans, even as a Californian iPhone user won an $850 small claims judgement against the company over throttling. AT&T has promised to appeal. A class action suit might be the normal evolution of such a complaint, but AT&T's subscriber contract prohibits class action or jury trials, leaving arbitration and small claims as options for unhappy customers.

Not everyone agrees that AT&T is misbehaving by throttling. SplatF's Dan Frommer opines that users are not acknowledging reality when they complain about AT&T terminating unlimited data plans.

Here’s the big picture bottom line: If you use a lot of data, you are clearly getting some sort of value out of it. Value isn’t free. The world’s finite resources simply aren’t trending toward free. That isn’t logical. I predict most of you will be spending significantly more per month for wireless data in 5 and 10 years than you do today. You’ll be getting faster and better service, and more value out of it, but it won’t be cheaper.

Please get over your emotional battle — and extinguish any legal threats, that’s silly — and join us in reality. If you use a lot of mobile data, be happy about it, and be happy paying for it. It’s worth it. And consider trying the add-on tethering plan for the iPhone, it can be useful if you carry a laptop or iPad.

AT&T's current data plans offer 300MB/month for $20, 3GB/month for $30, or 5GB/month for $50 (including tethering), with each additional 1GB costing users $10 on the higher allocation plans.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
113 months ago

Who the hell still uses ATT?


It works where I need it too and Verizon doesn't, so why not? Why do people use Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and others? That was probably one of the stupidest comments I have ever read on here. :rolleyes:
Score: 32 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
113 months ago

AT&T reserves the right to (i) limit throughput or amount of data transferred, deny Service and/or terminate Service, without notice, to anyone it believes is using the Service in any manner prohibited above or whose usage adversely impacts its wireless network or service levels or hinders access to its wireless network.

This does not deal with the situation at hand since they can't claim that 3G "negatively impacts wireless network or service levels" while turning around and selling 5G/month service to others.
Score: 29 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
113 months ago
The United States is in dire need of upgraded broadband.
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
113 months ago
Maybe they shouldn't have offered "Unlimited Data" when they didn't have the means to keep it up.

I know they're people who 'abuse' the network, but don't invite people when you don't have enough seats at the table.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
113 months ago
It's clearly not keeping with the spirit or intent of an unlimited data plan to simply cap the data and the cost at the same as a paid data plan - by definition this is not "unlimited".

I understand that it's fair to reasonably draw the line at some point, but this can effectively be done on a case-by-case basis where someone is truly and egregiously exceeding the mean usage by several standard deviations.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
113 months ago
I'm not that up in arms over the "unlimited" thing, although it does seem like a misnomer. I think the precedent which seems illegal is this part:

A class action suit might be the normal evolution of such a complaint, but AT&T's subscriber contract prohibits class action or jury trials, leaving arbitration and small claims as options for unhappy customers.


Having language that restricts how one is able to take a company to court seems...very much not okay.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Apple References Unreleased 2020 16-Inch MacBook Pro in Boot Camp Update

Monday October 26, 2020 8:42 am PDT by
Last week, Apple released an update for Boot Camp, its utility for running Windows on a Mac. While this update would typically be unremarkable, several of our readers noticed that the release notes reference an unreleased 2020 model of the 16-inch MacBook Pro. While this could easily be a mistake, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is nearly a year old, so it is certainly a worthy candidate for a...

Google Reportedly Pays Apple $8-12 Billion Per Year to be Default iOS Search Engine

Sunday October 25, 2020 2:59 pm PDT by
The United States Justice Department is targeting a lucrative deal between Apple and Google as part of one of the U.S. government's largest antitrust cases, reports The New York Times. On Tuesday, the Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google, claiming the Mountain View-based company used anticompetitive and exclusionary practices in the search and advertising markets to ...

iPhone 12 Pro Allows You to Measure Someone's Height Instantly Using LiDAR Scanner

Saturday October 24, 2020 11:12 am PDT by
iPhone 12 Pro models feature a new LiDAR Scanner for enhanced augmented reality experiences, but the sensor also enables another unique feature: the ability to measure a person's height instantly using the Measure app. You can even measure the seated height of a person in a chair, according to Apple. When the Measure app detects a person in the viewfinder, it automatically measures their...

MagSafe Charger Only Charges at Full 15W Speeds With Apple's 20W Power Adapter

Monday October 26, 2020 3:38 pm PDT by
Alongside the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro models, Apple introduced a new MagSafe charger that attaches to the magnetic ring in the back of the devices, providing up to 15W of charging power, which is double the speed of the 7.5W Qi-based wireless charging maximum. Apple does not provide a power adapter with the $39 MagSafe charger, requiring users to supply their own USB-C compatible option. Apple...

Early iPhone 12 Tests Show Ceramic Shield is Stronger and More Scratch Resistant Than iPhone 11 Glass

Friday October 23, 2020 1:21 pm PDT by
Apple's new iPhone 12 models are protected by a Ceramic Shield cover glass that has nano-ceramic crystals infused right into the glass to improve durability. According to Apple, Ceramic Shield offers four times better drop protection than the glass used for the iPhone 11 models. YouTube channel MobileReviewsEh conducted some tests on the iPhone 12 using a force meter to compare its performance ...

iPhone 12 Six-Foot Drop Test Results: Ceramic Shield More Durable But Not Damage Proof

Monday October 26, 2020 5:00 am PDT by
Apple's new iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro feature a new Ceramic Shield screen that Apple says offers 4x better drop performance. To test that claim, Allstate Protection Plans put the two models through a range of breakability tests and recorded the results. In a face down sidewalk drop test at six feet, the iPhone 12 suffered small cracks and scuffed corners and edges, leaving sharp grooves in ...

Bloomberg: New AirPods and AirPods Pro Coming in 2021, AirPods Studio Delayed, Third HomePod Model Also Possible

Monday October 26, 2020 3:34 am PDT by
Apple plans to update its AirPods line next year with two new models including third-generation AirPods and second-generation AirPods Pro, according to a new report from Bloomberg. The Cupertino, California-based technology giant is working on two new models: third-generation entry-level AirPods and the second version of the AirPods Pro earbuds, according to people familiar with the plans. ...

Report: Apple Silicon iMac Featuring Desktop Class 'A14T' Chip Coming First Half of 2021

Tuesday October 27, 2020 4:14 am PDT by
The first iMac powered by Apple Silicon is set to arrive in the first half of next year and will feature a desktop class "A14T" chip, according to Chinese-language newspaper The China Times. Codenamed "Mt. Jade," Apple's first custom-made desktop processor will be twinned with its first self-developed GPU, codenamed "Lifuka," both of which are being produced using TSMC's 5-nanometer process, ...

iPhone 11 Pro Outlasts iPhone 12 and 12 Pro in Extensive Battery Life Test

Friday October 23, 2020 8:36 am PDT by
Arun Maini today shared a new side-by-side iPhone battery life video test on his YouTube channel Mrwhosetheboss, timing how long the new iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro models last on a single charge compared to older models, with equal brightness, settings, battery health, and usage. All of the devices are running iOS 14 without a SIM card inserted. In the test, the iPhone 11 Pro outlasted both ...

Apple Warns MagSafe Charger Can Leave Circular Imprints on Leather Cases

Friday October 23, 2020 3:23 pm PDT by
If you keep your iPhone in a leather case while charging with Apple's new MagSafe Charger, the case might show circular imprints from contact with the accessory, according to a new Apple support document published today. Apple's leather cases for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are not available until November 6, but a MacRumors reader has already shared a photo of a circular imprint on...