Rob Wilson /

So much for “unlimited” data. The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday announced that it plans to order AT&T to pay $100 million for some sneaky business the telecom giant engaged in with regard to its supposedly unfettered data plans.

Turns out that, according to the FCC, AT&T was offering customers unlimited use of the company’s data services while significantly hitting the brakes on the speed at which that data could be accessed by those customers. Ah, capitalism.

As USA Today reported following the FCC’s corporate shaming maneuver, this proposed fine represents the heftiest of its kind. And not surprisingly, AT&T isn’t really in the mood to pay such a high price for bilking consumers:

AT&T failed to adequately notify its customers that they could receive speeds slower than the normal network speeds AT&T advertised, the FCC said. AT&T’s actions also violated the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order, a set of rules that regulate telecom service providers’ conduct, the agency said.

If customers used more than 5 gigabytes of data for the month, the carrier slowed its data transmission speeds to levels that made using mobile apps difficult or impossible, said an FCC official, who requested anonymity to discuss the agency’s actions in detail. AT&T no longer sells unlimited plans to new customers, but those who subscribed to the plans when they were still in market can continue to claim their right to use as much data as they want.


“We will vigorously dispute the FCC’s assertions,” AT&T said in a 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.”

Who will prevail? Hopefully the FCC, but either way, AT&T customers with unlimited plans might want to read about it on a device other than their smartphone to get that news in a timely fashion.

–Posted by Kasia Anderson


If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface. We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.

Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.