AT&T dropped a bomb Friday on unlimited data plan smartphone customers who use their devices so much they fall into that top 5 percent that clogs up the network during any given billing cycle.
To address the issue, starting Oct. 1, the carrier will begin throttling transmission speeds for heavy users until they reach their next billing cycle. That group, AT&T said, is responsible for clogging up the network with excessive streaming of very large amounts of video and music, video apps, remote web camera apps, sending large data files (like video) and some online gaming, on a daily basis. There is no problem if that activity is done via Wi-Fi, the carrier said.
Attempts to reach local AT&T officials were unsuccessful Friday, so it remained unclear how many island customers could be affected by the decision.
“Like other wireless companies, we’re taking steps to manage exploding demand for mobile data. Many experts agree the country is facing a serious wireless spectrum crunch,” AT&T said, following in T-Mobile’s and Verizon Wireless’ footsteps of reeling ‘data happy’ customers in.
“We’re responding on many levels, including investing billions in our wireless network this year and working to acquire additional network capacity,” it said, in reference to its proposed merger with T-Mobile.
“But even as we pursue this additional measure, it will not solve our spectrum shortage and network capacity issues. Nothing short of completing the T-Mobile merger will provide additional spectrum capacity to address these near term challenges,” the carrier said.
Curbing data ‘hogs’
In its notice, AT&T said its “heavy users” consume an average of 12 times more data than the average of all other smartphone data customers. Before reducing speeds, AT&T will warn excessive users that they are reaching their monthly due.
“This step will not apply to our 15 million smartphone customers on a tiered data plan or the vast majority of smartphone customers who still have unlimited data plans,” AT&T said, adding Wi-Fi users are also safe.
On average, smartphone users can send or receive thousands of emails, surf thousands of Web pages and watch hours of streaming video every month and not be in the top 5 percent of data users, AT&T said.
“The bottom line is our customers have options. They can choose to stay on their unlimited plans and use unlimited amounts of data, but may experience reduced speeds at some point if they are an extraordinarily heavy data user,” the carrier said. “If speed is more important, they may wish to switch to a tiered usage plan, where customers can pay for more data if they need it and will not see reduced speeds.”