So, um, why exactly do carriers throttle the top 5% of data users again?

So, um, why exactly do carriers throttle the top 5% of data users again?
You know the usual explanation: Carriers throttle their top data users to prevent network congestion. In other words, those power users with unlimited plans that like to gobble up obscene amounts of data are made to suffer somewhat so that everyone else won’t have to suffer through a network slowdown. Which makes perfect sense, except that apparently it simply isn’t true.

Cell phone bill “optimization” specialist Validas examined a sample of over 55,000 cell phone bills from the U.S., and what they discovered is that the top 5% of unlimited data plans (the people who get throttled) use almost exactly the same amount of data as the top 5% of tiered data plan users. Put another way, the only difference between the people being throttled and those who aren’t is that the throttled users are still on grandfathered unlimited plans.

So, um, why exactly do carriers throttle the top 5  of data users again?
So it appears that throttling is little more than a stick being wielded by some carriers to cajole unlimited data plan users to switch to tiered plans. It’s important to note that we can’t paint all the U.S. carriers with the same wide brush here; T-Mobile is up front about throttling after 5 GBs of use, which only applies to a very small number of users, and has the effect of making “unlimited” plans basically 5 GB per month plans with slowed access thereafter. Sprint maintains that they don't throttle data use, except in cases of network abuse.

Verizon says they only throttle the top 5% of unlimited data users based on local network need, and they stop throttling when network congestion relaxes (e.g. at night). Of course we have only their word to go on, but this would seem like a more measured response. On the other hand, a blanket throttle (even a temporary one) of 5% of all unlimited users still is little more than a temporary punishment for having maintained an unlimited data plan.

AT&T has even less of a defense; their policy not only allows them to throttle the top 5% of data unlimited data users (despite not using significantly more data than tiered customers) but they implement this throttling after just 2GB of use - while tiered data plan users can use 3 GB of data without seeing a slowdown. Worse, once throttled a customer will continue to get throttled data for the remainder of the billing cycle. So unlimited data plan owners may find themselves at greatly reduced network speeds for an extended period, despite committing no crime greater than not having a tiered data plan.

We think that stinks. To be sure, every network has instances of users that gobble truly disproportionate amounts of data (10-20 GB or more) and we can understand if those users must be throttled during times of heavy load to ensure network access to everyone. But the method employed by AT&T – to throttle unlimited users for “being in the top 5%” for the remainder of the month, even if their data usage doesn’t exceed the usage of the top 5% of tiered customers – that amounts to little more than a punishment of some of their most loyal users.

AT&T and Verizon claim they are providing a choice - to reduce their data usage or else suffer a slowdown in data for the "good of the whole." What they really mean is you have a choice between possibly seeing a slowdown in your unlimited data usage, or using the same amount of data without throttling by switching to one of our more profitable tiered data plans. So far this practice only applies to 3G data plans - Verizon has explicitly exempted 4G LTE users (except in extreme cases). But as 4G phones become ubiquitous, how long before we start to see similar practices placed on the owners of unlimited 4G LTE plans?

Regardless, the practice should stop – and that goes for any other carrier that may engage in the practice but not publicize it. We understand that all companies want to increase their profit margins, but punishing customers who have grandfathered data plans is not an acceptable way to go about this.

Let us know what you think in the comments section.

source: Validas, BGR

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46 Comments

1. bigdawg23

Posts: 467; Member since: May 25, 2011

I have ATT Unlimited Plan. To date(Knock on Wood) have not been throttled when eclipsing 2GB. My opinion is why they don't touch tiered is if they go over they pay for it. People like me on Unlimited go get to 50GB while still paying $30.

2. squallz506

Posts: 1075; Member since: Oct 19, 2011

dollar dollar bill yall! ive got 5GB of 4g on magenta, and have yet to go over my limit. these shady practices are what keeps me on prepaid.

3. LoneShaolin

Posts: 307; Member since: Jan 14, 2012

f**king agreed! I have one friend who has ATT Unlimited Data and is throttled after 1.5GB religiously. And I have a friend on Verizon Unlimited Data who has used 25GB every month he has had it, even spiking up to 109GB LAST MONTH to test out the throttling theory. Not only was he not throttled, he was never warned about a throttling issue either.

6. pooked

Posts: 56; Member since: Jan 27, 2012

we all know between verizon and att who the clear winner is...been a big red fan since before late 90's and still remain loyal to the big red army!! too soon?

15. superguy

Posts: 383; Member since: Jul 15, 2011

How's that possible? VZ/VZW didn't even exist before 2000. So who were you a big fan of before 2000?

16. hobble

Posts: 130; Member since: Oct 11, 2011

I think he's talking about the kool aid man.

21. quakan

Posts: 1418; Member since: Mar 02, 2011

I think he's talking about the pop or gum. lol

22. corporateJP

Posts: 2458; Member since: Nov 28, 2009

That's not entirely true. It was three companies unified into one, then they bought out a bunch of different regionals. He could've been on Airtouch or GTE before they merged and became Verizon. Just sayin'...

23. EclipseGSX

Posts: 1770; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

or the Nebraska Cornhuskers lol

34. CellieCell

Posts: 148; Member since: Apr 14, 2010

I am also on Verizon's unlimited data and average 12-15GB per month, luckily I haven't seen any throttling. ^_^v

4. Habib

Posts: 114; Member since: Feb 26, 2011

I would add to the article, that verizon throttles the unlimited with only 3G network, that excludes unlimited 4G data plans :D!

8. iamcc

Posts: 1319; Member since: Oct 07, 2011

How much can Verizon really throttle 3G? Not trolling or anything because I have Verizon and love it but the 3G is already pretty slow as it is...

13. Scott_H

Posts: 167; Member since: Oct 28, 2011

Good point Habib, added.

5. cybervlad81

Posts: 89; Member since: Apr 04, 2011

Running on 3G, on Verizon and have yet to see a throttle, half way through this bill cycle and am at 3.5GB I usually hit +/- 5GB a month due to a long commute and excessive Dogcatcher(Podcast) use.

7. PimpStrong

Posts: 310; Member since: Jul 25, 2011

I just thank God for T-Mobile's cheap $20 2GB plan because with CPU access at work and WiFi at home, I'll never have to worry about going over or throttling. Bring on the $20/MO LTE!!

9. imkyle

Posts: 1111; Member since: Nov 18, 2010

My dad still has the $30 unlimited data plan for the iPhone since 2009 and he says that he does notice a slower speed when used above a certain amount.

10. 14545

Posts: 1835; Member since: Nov 22, 2011

I have to stand by VZW on this issue, and this issue alone. I use somewhere between 4-10 gb's a month. Typically around 5-6, but I have had more and less, and I have never been throttled. I consider myself a heavy user, but if you are using >15gb a month, then you need to learn to not be so selfish. I tether when not in range of wifi, but usually < an hour or so a month. I can honestly say, that if I was on ATT, I would leave. I have a friend on ATT and he was throttled at 2 gb last month on his iphone. And he isn't jailbroken and never uses it in a way that wouldn't be deemed "normal" usage.

14. Scott_H

Posts: 167; Member since: Oct 28, 2011

We specifically agreed that it's a legitimate practice to throttle speeds on network abusers - the point is that most people who fall into that "top 5% of data users" aren't actually using any more data than tiered customers, so they are being punished for nothing more than not upgrading to a plan the carrier prefers (be it 4G or tiered...but tiered is what they really want).

11. Jammers

Posts: 6; Member since: May 05, 2011

The companies won't stop it until We the Consumers use our mighty dollar and take our buisness elsewhere. Sadly, most of us are such sheep we won't. How long before the Big guys decide unlimited texting isn't profitable enough and shy away from 'unlimited' plans for that as well? Don't be so silly to think they WON'T do it if they think they'll get away with it. All it takes REALLY is one of the Big Two.

29. Cwebb

Posts: 501; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

Because texting is so cheap as it is their already making a killing off that. I remember an older article saying that.

36. Jammers

Posts: 6; Member since: May 05, 2011

Texting is essentially FREE for the carriers. Trust me though, if they think they can squeeze a few more dollars out, they will. Why do you think AT&T was one of the last to GET an Unlimited plan?

12. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

lol, i hit almost 20gb of data last month. of course, im on a no-throttle employee plan. :)

17. Magog14

Posts: 3; Member since: Feb 07, 2012

If it weren't for people hacking their phones to tether for free the carriers wouldn't bother throttling.

18. Scott_H

Posts: 167; Member since: Oct 28, 2011

The data in the article shows this is not true. While there clearly are individuals who do this and end up abusing their data plan, on average the top 5% of unlimited data users are indistinguishable from the top 5% of tiered data users - so it's unrelated to tethering abuse.

24. corporateJP

Posts: 2458; Member since: Nov 28, 2009

True, but tethering was a big part of why carriers switched to tiered. They aren't totally stupid. Regardless, it is a good point.

33. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

as a person working for teh carriers, i dissagree. what happened was one carrier had the balls to charge for it... aka a major one.. and the rest followed suite after they realized that people didnt gather their pitch forks. the only reason there is tiered data plans is so they can reduce the cost for those that dont want the plan but want the phone (in which the carrier still nets more than the people that never make the switch to smartphones), and raise the cost on those that need the plan and intend on using it.

44. atheisticemetic

Posts: 377; Member since: Dec 18, 2011

limewire was a pretty big contributor (at least in West Michigan) as to the push toward tiered plans as I mentioned before, it's usually one person to ruin it for the rest of us...i miss my unl data

28. miles16852

Posts: 241; Member since: Oct 20, 2011

WRONG!!!!!

43. cnpthe3rd

Posts: 103; Member since: Feb 01, 2009

as for tethering what difference does it make I use my phone basically the same as my computer why does it matter if i tether or not

19. medicci37

Posts: 1361; Member since: Nov 19, 2011

This is what happens when big bussiness is deregulated. It should be illegal for carriers to throttle customers unless they go over 5 gigs. @ Magog that makes no sense. Its not about tethering. its about how much data people use. Tmo doesn't charge extra for tethering. & users don't have to tether to use more than 2 gigs.

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