FTC Levies $40M Fine Against TracFone for Throttling Unlimited Data Customers

tracfone_4In recent months, the Federal Trade Commission has taken a significant interest in carrier throttling practices and today handed down a ruling that could have future ramifications for carriers who throttle their unlimited customers.

As reported by Re/code, the FTC has ordered prepaid wireless carrier TracFone to pay $40 million to consumers who paid for unlimited service and were then throttled after reaching certain data limits.

TracFone advertised "unlimited text, talk, and data" for $45 a month under the brands Straight Talk, Net10, Simple Mobile, and Telcel America, and until September 2013, did not clearly disclose its throttling policies that saw customers experiencing data speeds that were cut by up to 90 percent, thereby violating the FTC Act.

While this ruling only affects TracFone at the current time, there are several other carriers that have similar practices for their unlimited customers. AT&T and Verizon no longer offer unlimited data plans, but continue to provide unlimited data for many people who remain on grandfathered plans. AT&T has engaged in throttling practices for years, often cutting off customers who exceed 5GB of LTE data usage.

"The issue here is simple: when you promise consumers 'unlimited,' that means unlimited," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "This settlement means that Straight Talk, Net10, Simple Mobile, and Telcel America customers will be able to get money back from the company for services the company promised but didn't deliver."

Last year, Verizon planned to throttle its high-usage unlimited data LTE customers, sparking interest from FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who said he was "deeply troubled" by the decision. Verizon ultimately reversed course and opted not to throttle its unlimited customers, but the FCC's attention was already roused, and the agency began questioning all carriers on their unlimited throttling practices.

The government's interest in carrier throttling practices led the FTC to file a federal complaint against AT&T in October of 2014, accusing the carrier of misleading its smartphone customers by charging them for unlimited data and then going on to reduce data speeds. Based on today's TracFone decision, AT&T may also be facing hefty fines in the future, and the FTC's ongoing involvement in carrier throttling of unlimited customers could finally put an end to the practice.

Top Rated Comments

jtrenthacker Avatar
78 months ago

Everyone to whom throttling would be relevant knows about throttling, and nows the carriers do it. And its in the contract that they can do it. It's not like this stuff is a secret. So they did it on some people, and those people are now pissed because they don't like the terms of the contract that they signed anymore. But worry not, bureaucrats to the rescue. Let's just steal their money back because they're not happy with their decision anymore.

Losers. :rolleyes:


Are you the AT&T customer service rep I talked to the other day? Huh, small world.
Score: 32 Votes (Like | Disagree)
GrecoISU Avatar
78 months ago

Everyone to whom throttling would be relevant knows about throttling, and nows the carriers do it. And its in the contract that they can do it. It's not like this stuff is a secret. So they did it on some people, and those people are now pissed because they don't like the terms of the contract that they signed anymore. But worry not, bureaucrats to the rescue. Let's just steal their money back because they're not happy with their decision anymore.

Losers. :rolleyes:


You're so cute! :rolleyes:
Score: 27 Votes (Like | Disagree)
k1121j Avatar
78 months ago
its about time they make them honor "Unlimited" its not if its limited. I'm surprised its gone on this long
Score: 26 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jtrenthacker Avatar
78 months ago
GOOD! I hope they fine the hell out of all of them. I'm an unlimited customer with AT&T and I've now been bitten by their throttling practices. We just recently moved across the country. Before the move, I worked at a university that had campus wide wifi and of course I had wifi at home. Between the two, I hardly ever used LTE. After we moved, we were without internet for three weeks. I would use the LTE for everything on my phone including Netflix. Soon I was getting texts that I will be throttled if I go over 5gb. Sure enough, eventually LTE became almost unusable. Then last week, I start getting texts, emails, and an actual letter telling my to stop tethering! Mind you, we've had internet at the house for a couple weeks now. I have never used tethering. They say if I continue they will change my plan without my consent. I called the customer service line and bitched about it. They didn't really apologize. They just tell me my plan will stay the same and that there may be apps on my phone that act like tethering (total BS). We have never had a bad experience with AT&T until now. All because I went over 5gb in data on my UNLIMITED plan? Kiss my att.
Score: 25 Votes (Like | Disagree)
HobeSoundDarryl Avatar
78 months ago
OK FTC, but dole out the fines to more than just the cheap(est) players. It will be wrong to fine a player like this while allowing AT&T, Verizon etc to carry on without fines. Of course, AT&T & Verizon make big campaign contributions so lets see if the Gov punishes wrongdoing or if this "wrongdoing" is defined as not contributing enough to campaigns.

Seems odd that a relatively small player would get a headline fine for throttling while the much bigger, much deeper pocketed players are left out.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ArtOfWarfare Avatar
78 months ago
Can we do something about the regional broadband monopolies (IE, Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner?) They concern me more than the cellular providers, which at least compete with each other so have some interest in screwing over their customers less so that people will switch.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Top Stories 44 Feature

Top Stories: 'Thinner and Lighter' MacBook Air, Smaller iPhone 13 Notch, iOS 14.4 Incoming

Saturday January 23, 2021 6:00 am PST by
We continued to hear a lot more about Apple's plans for its Mac lineup this week, including word of a high-end redesigned MacBook Air and the return of an SD card slot as part of the upcoming MacBook Pro redesign. It also sounds like Apple has been working on Face ID for Mac, but it won't be appearing in a redesigned iMac this year as originally planned. This week also saw rumors about the...
magsafecasedangle

Apple Elaborates on Potential for iPhone 12 and MagSafe Accessories to Interfere With Implantable Medical Devices

Saturday January 23, 2021 2:42 pm PST by
Since the launch of iPhone 12 models in October, Apple has acknowledged that the devices may cause electromagnetic interference with medical devices like pacemakers and defibrillators, but the company has now shared additional information. Apple added the following paragraph to a related support document today:Medical devices such as implanted pacemakers and defibrillators might contain...
Flat MacBook Air Feature

Bloomberg: Apple Working on 'Thinner and Lighter' High-End MacBook Air With MagSafe, Could Launch in Second Half of 2021

Friday January 22, 2021 3:34 am PST by
Apple is working on a "thinner and lighter" version of the MacBook Air that the company plans to release during the second half of this year at the earliest or in 2022, according to a new report by well-connected Bloomberg journalist Mark Gurman. It will include Apple's MagSafe charging technology and a next-generation version of the company's in-house Mac processors. Apple has discussed...
2021 mbp sd slot feature2

Bloomberg: Next MacBook Pro to Feature SD Card Reader

Friday January 22, 2021 7:50 am PST by
Last week, reputable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo outlined his expectations for new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models later this year, including the return of the MagSafe charging connector, the removal of the Touch Bar, a new flat-edged design, and the return of more ports built into the notebooks for expanded connectivity. A concept of a modern MacBook Pro with an SD card reader Kuo did not...
airpods galaxy buds comparison

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro vs. Apple AirPods Pro

Friday January 22, 2021 2:34 pm PST by
Samsung in January unveiled new flagship Galaxy S21 smartphones and alongside the new phones, introduced the $200 Galaxy Buds Pro, which are priced at $199 and offer Active Noise Cancellation. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. These new Galaxy Buds Pro are clearly designed to compete with Apple's AirPods Pro, so we thought we'd compare the two sets of earbuds in our...
maxresdefault

Microsoft Touts Surface Pro 7 as 'The Better Choice' Over MacBook Pro in New Ad

Saturday January 23, 2021 11:02 am PST by
Microsoft yesterday shared a new ad on YouTube titled "Microsoft Surface Pro 7: The Better Choice," in which the company compares its tablet computer to Apple's 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro, as spotted by MSPoweruser. The ad highlights the Surface Pro 7's touchscreen and included stylus as opposed to only a "little bar" (the Touch Bar) on the MacBook Pro. Other advantages of the Surface Pro 7...
iOS 15 icon mock banner

iOS 15 Rumored to Drop Support for iPhone 6s and 2016 iPhone SE

Thursday January 21, 2021 11:58 am PST by
Apple's upcoming iOS 15 operating system, which we expect to see unveiled in June, is rumored to be dropping support for a few of Apple's older iPhones. According to French site iPhoneSoft, iOS 15 will not be able to be installed on the iPhone 6s, the iPhone 6s Plus, or the 2016 iPhone SE, all of which have an A9 chip. The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were introduced in 2015 and are now more...
maxresdefault

Video Demos macOS Catalina Running on iPad Pro via x86 Emulation

Thursday January 21, 2021 11:36 am PST by
A video demonstrating macOS Catalina running on a current 2020 iPad Pro has been shared on YouTube, giving us a look at an interesting hack that has a Mac OS up and working on one of Apple's iPads. There's limited information about how the process of getting macOS Catalina on an iPad Pro works, but it uses x86 emulation and was done through the UTM software that allows virtual machines to...
iPhone 13 Notch Feature

iPhone 13 Rumored to Feature Smaller Notch, Pro Model Cameras to Use Larger Image Sensor

Thursday January 21, 2021 1:38 am PST by
Apple's iPhone 13 series will feature a redesigned Face ID system that will allow for a smaller notch at the top of the screen, according to a new report today. The rumor comes via hit-and-miss Taiwanese industry publication DigiTimes, whose supply chain sources also claim that the ultra wide-angle lens in Apple's next-generation iPhones is due for an upgrade. The next-generation iPhones'...
iOS 14

Apple Seeds iOS 14.4 and iPadOS 14.4 Release Candidate to Developers and Public Beta Testers

Thursday January 21, 2021 10:14 am PST by
Apple today seeded the RC version of upcoming iOS 14.4 and iPadOS 14.4 updates to developers for testing purposes, with the new betas coming a week after Apple released the second betas. iOS 14.4 and iPadOS 14.4 can be downloaded through the Apple Developer Center or over the air after the proper profile has been installed on an iPhone or iPad. Paired with the HomePod 14.4 beta that is...