FCC Set to Fine AT&T $100 Million for Limiting "Unlimited Data" Customers

Remember that time four years ago that AT&T gutted your precious, grandfathered-in unlimited plan and started throttling your "excessive" data use? Turns out, the Federal Communications Commission didn't like it either. Wednesday, the FCC expressed that displeasure in a big way, announcing plans to hit the Dallas-based communications giant with an FCC-record $100 million fine.

The fine's genesis can be traced to the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. Early adopters of the first widely popular phone capable of gulping down tremendous amounts of mobile data were offered unlimited data allowances by AT&T and took advantage of them. In 2010, AT&T stopped offering unlimited data plans to new customers. Customers who'd previously had unlimited data were allowed to keep their plans, however. In 2011, AT&T began throttling speeds for the top 5 percent of data users on its network. More recently, the company has slowed speeds for any unlimited data customer who exceeds 3 gigabytes of data use in a month. Three gigs is a bunch of data, but not an outrageous amount if one happens to do a bunch of streaming.

The FCC says that AT&T misled customers with the unlimited plans.

“Unlimited means unlimited,” FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc said in announcing the fine. “As today’s action demonstrates, the Commission is committed to holding accountable those broadband providers who fail to be fully transparent about data limits.”

AT&T has 30 days to respond in writing to the FCC's charges. After that happens, the commission will make a final decision on the fine.

“We will vigorously dispute the FCC’s assertions,” AT&T said in a Wednesday statement. “The FCC has specifically identified this practice as a legitimate and reasonable way to manage network resources for the benefit of all customers, and has known for years that all of the major carriers use it. We have been fully transparent with our customers, providing notice in multiple ways and going well beyond the FCC’s disclosure requirements.”

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