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The Best Way to Beat AT&T’s Data Throttling is to Have Everyone Consume More Data!

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We had previously reported that grandfathered unlimited data plan subscribers of AT&T Mobility have begun to receive notices that they are excessively using their data plans with as little as 2 GB of data consumption within the month, and now we’re beginning to hear multiple sources report that they are receiving notices with as little as 1.5 GB of data usage in a given month. As AT&T have migrated to a more profitable and less network straining tiered data plan just before the carrier launched the iPhone 4 with Apple, it appears that AT&T is doing everything it can to make the data experience unpleasant for unlimited data subscribers to force them to switch to a tiered data plan by throttling excessive data users.

So what is a customer to do if he doesn’t want to be throttled to dialup-like speeds? I advocate that all grandfathered unlimited data plan owners consume more data and beat AT&T’s game of the prisoner’s dilemma. Sounds crazy? Well, it actually makes sense once you understand’s AT&T’s game theory behind trying to force us into better data conserving habits.

History:

At the time that AT&T had made the migration to tiered plan pricing, it justified the move saying most consumers never went above 2 GB per month and justified the 2 GB plan at $25, versus the $30 for the unlimited plan, which is no longer offered today. As data needs grow, in recent months, AT&T began to offer a $30 3 GB data plan, which is exactly what the unlimited data plan had cost when AT&T offered such plans.

However, in the nearly two years since AT&T abandoned unlimited data plan pricing, it appears that consumer’s data use is rising, and the reason for AT&T’s strict enforcement of its policy is to manage bandwidth at the expense of offering a good customer experience. According to the Associated Press, which had reported that user Mike Trang is now fearful to use his phone is: “The reason: AT&T considers Trang to be among the top 5 percent of the heaviest cellular data users in his area. Under a new policy, AT&T has started cutting their data speeds as part of an attempt to manage data usage on its network.”

Under AT&T’s policy, if a user is deemed to be within the top 5% of data users, meaning they are using excessive amounts of data, then they will be throttled. Users won’t be charged for overage and won’t be billed additionally for the amount of data they consume, but their download and upload speeds will be throttled, or slowed down. Rather than the 1-5 Mbps that is common with AT&T’s 3G or 4G HSPA+ connections on the download side, users will be experiencing 2G EDGE speeds, which are comparable to yesteryear’s dialup speeds, as the AP reports: “So last month, AT&T “throttled” Trang’s iPhone, slowing downloads by roughly 99 percent. That means a Web page that would normally take a second to load instead took almost two minutes.”

AT&T’s Catch:

The catch here, and AT&T’s strategy for throttling, is that it will not disclose how much data consumed will be needed to place customers in the top 5%. It could range, as it seems from customer reports so far, from 1 GB to 2 GB and more. According to ZDNET “As if the throttling wasn’t chicken enough, AT&T refuses to tell the customers how much data they are allowed before getting lousy dial-up speeds imposed. According to AT&T they are throttling the top 5 percent of data users in a given area. That definition is meaningless to the customers affected, as it’s up to AT&T to determine when a given user enters the top 5 percent club. One day you’re not in the top 5, the next you are. I’ve heard from quite a few who have been throttled, and the magic data number seems to be around 2.1 GB of data usage when the dreaded throttling kicks in.”

Game Theory: The Prisoner’s Dilemma:

That’s the brilliance of AT&T’s strategy because it measures user’s habits against their peers, and given that we are so reliant on the Internet–which is only convenient through a mobile broadband connection as an open WiFi signal is not required–that we are driven by fear of being slowed down “by roughly 99 percent” to 2G EDGE speeds. Here, AT&T is leverage the classic game theory known as the prisoner’s dilemma, which according to Wikipedia is:

Two men are arrested, but the police do not possess enough information for a conviction. Following the separation of the two men, the police offer both a similar deal—if one testifies against his partner (defects/betrays), and the other remains silent (cooperates/assists), the betrayer goes free and the cooperator receives the full one-year sentence. If both remain silent, both are sentenced to only one month in jail for a minor charge. If each ‘rats out’ the other, each receives a three-month sentence. Each prisoner must choose either to betray or remain silent; the decision of each is kept quiet. What should they do?

Basically, if all grandfathered unlimited smartphone owners in the area are measured against each other on data usage. If everyone uses just 1 MB of data per month, hypothetically, and you come in at 1.5 GB of data transfers, you’ll be deemed as an excessive data user. Now, if everyone used 2 GB of data per month, and your monthly transfer clock in at 1.5 GB, you are not an excessive data user.

Conclusion:

For this to be successful, everyone’s action is required to push the data ceiling upwards so that the top 5% of data use would be raised to a higher number. However, because of our fears of 2G EDGE speeds–that our peers will sabotage us out of self-preservation as demonstrated by the prisoner’s dilemma experiment–there will be hold outs, and that’s how AT&T is able to throttle users. We all have a little Mike Trang in us–mobile users who don’t want to experience dial-up speeds, so unfortunately there won’t be an ‘Occupy AT&T’ movement to up the data usage.

If every user consume just a little more data, consumers would not only have beaten AT&T at its own throttling game, but would push the ceiling for data consumption just a little more so that some the best Internet-reliant apps–such as the streaming videos, instant uploads, and others–that depend on a fast mobile broadband connection can find some value now that we actually have a fast enough mobile 3G and 4G network to support those apps.

Tech enthusiast in Silicon Valley enjoying the possibilities of ubiquitous connectivity, information sharing, and collaboration enabled by mobile broadband. You can contact Chuong on Twitter @chuongvision or search +chuongvision on Google+.

31 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    02/15/2012 at 7:08 pm

     http://lnk.co/IHOTL

  2. Robert Blum

    02/15/2012 at 8:14 pm

    Interesting article and interesting suggestion. 

    I got warned at .8GB and at exactly 2GB got the message.  I had downloaded a map for Navigon, watched 25 minutes of NetFlix, got two dozen podcasts, and used Pandora (at work where I cannot use the WiFi for music streaming).  The AT&T “account manager” told me I was in the top 5% of ALL users, not just unlimited, but confirmed that only unlimited are (currently) throttled.  From experience, I know most of my friends use under .5GB and some just use the iPhone as a phone!  Everybody should use more data!

    Reality check: Though I am getting exactly 150kbps until the 17th, it is more than enough for Pandora and for streaming quality music upto 120kbps.  Google maps and traffic loads quickly enough, if not snappy.  So I’m still OK, and consuming pretty much without really noticing.

    However, I am annoyed enough to have lodged a complaint at both the FCC and the local Better Business Bureau.  Use more data… and complain… please.

    • ol1bit

      02/15/2012 at 10:48 pm

      That’s the spirit!   Feel pleased that they throttle your unlimited data plan now, after all it’s a steal compared with tier plans!

      Fook them, if Verizon does that, it’s a breach of contact I’d think, and my 2 year required plan should be as good as dead.

  3. Stony

    02/15/2012 at 11:55 pm

    Let’s organize something similar to what was mentioned in this article. http://www.facebook.com/NOthrottle

    If we can find a way to make AT&T suffer, why not return the favor?

  4. Reason

    02/16/2012 at 8:58 am

    Hey – you know that they are only throttling in the areas that are congested, right?  

    So if “everybody does this” more areas will be congested and more users will be throttled.  And of course everybody’s network performance will suffer.  Under no circumstances will fewer users be throttled.  Isn’t that your real goal?

    Think things through please, and try to come up with something where the results of your action might lead toward your goal.

    • Cuhulin AmHairghin

      02/25/2012 at 2:09 pm

      Actually, the point is that fewer will be throttled because AT&T’s system of separately hurting individual customers would become broken.

  5. Anonymous

    02/16/2012 at 4:12 pm

     http://lnk.co/IHOTL

  6. chris

    02/16/2012 at 4:18 pm

    A few things that weren’t listed in the article:
    1) AT&T last month started throttling people WITHOUT NOTICE, no 5% warning and 5% “throttle” text messages
    2) AT&T before last month was actually going off of 5%, now they are throttling at right around 2GB for everybody
    3) Even when throttled, if you have an LTE Phone, google and you will find out how to “unthrottle” yourself (android only)
    4) when AT&T originally started throttling, they would send out 5% warning text messages as early as 500mb for people using Netflix, HULU, and Slingbox (which to my understanding is very illegal)

  7. Conbriocat

    02/16/2012 at 10:49 pm

    What I would like to know is why hasn’t the FCC taken any action against AT&T?

  8. Kevz

    02/16/2012 at 11:17 pm

    Fine…you can throttle me when I TRULY get to the top 5% mark but don’t FREAKING drop be to speeds slower than 2G. At least give us 3G speeds!
    Damn phone is almost totally useless.
    Yes, my phones says I have “4G LTE” signal with 5 bars but I can only download at GPRS speeds!
     

  9. lingling444

    02/17/2012 at 3:58 pm

     http://lnk.co/IJRNC

  10. xintong12

    02/17/2012 at 5:42 pm

     http://lnk.co/IHOTL

  11. BreeZy

    02/17/2012 at 6:29 pm

    I also, like many other loyal customers use a 4g (if you’d like to call that) smartphone. I received texts 5% users! But, never received any formal warning! Could tbis be legal?? Is this incorporated somewhere in our customer agreement?? I need to look over…
    How loyal AT&T are you to us, your valued customer! I as some other posted will be filing formal complaint with FCC. Who knows, i’m very sure some government officials wouldn’t like their data “throttled.”
    Lets up the ante!! use DATA!

  12. Distortedloop

    02/19/2012 at 6:35 am

    AT&T is only loyal to profits…expecting then to be “loyal” to customers who don’t contribute to them by paying for, but not using them, is a bit naive. Clearly they don’t want us as customer if we remain on the unlimited pan. I say give them what they want…they’re voice quality pales compared to Verizon, and their coverage/building-penetration doesn’t compare well either.

  13. David Frankk

    02/20/2012 at 2:35 am

    What an amazing loophole. Love it !

     Cloud Computing Platforms

  14. nanguo45

    02/20/2012 at 4:11 am

     http://lnk.co/IHOTL

  15. denwise

    02/20/2012 at 7:47 am

    @edfc3fe7ceea00d551fbbd5da48a90cf:disqus I agree.  Had unlimited data plan with AT&T and iphone 3. Was with AT&T for 15 years. Throttling policy made me decide that I don’t want to business with them anymore.  Got BOGO DROID RAZR Maxx phones with new 2-yr contract with Verizon President’s Day Sale.  Wouldn’t have switched if I was still in contract, but now that I have, I expect to stay with Verizon unless they do something equally sleazy.

  16. JJ

    02/20/2012 at 6:35 pm

    I have two iPhones with unlimited data.  One received the 5% message, the other did not.  The only difference was that my daughter mostly used the wifi in the house.  I have gone over 2GB on a regular basis.  Just this month she decided to turn off wifi and has consumed almost as much as I have.  She still has not received the 5% message.  Can someone explain this to me?

  17. longnian41

    02/22/2012 at 5:12 am

  18. xiaozao22

    02/22/2012 at 3:38 pm

  19. longnian43

    02/22/2012 at 6:30 pm

    ta.gg/5mx

  20. BreeZy

    02/25/2012 at 5:57 am

    If all else hasn’t changed! Just thrown another loop (noose) strangelhold..
    Received a text at&t: “did you know thethering your smartphone too a computer requires a thethering plan.” Immediately, I call at&t ohh! they even give you a special # to call. I get the rep, tell her “why’d you sent me the text” no answer, duh! Well, then I proceed, “at&t has sent me other texts say im in the 5% users” not even notified. Doc, I think I hit a “nerve” the rep tells me I’m using a device to thether playstation, tablet, laptop etc. trying to blow smoke up my ***! I say prove it! Rep says that’s violating privacy rights. I ask, how much data did I use? Well, let me see 5gb. Are you sure???

  21. Dale Strauss

    03/06/2012 at 10:15 am

    AT&T is so generous – now they’ll “allow us” to have 3gb/month of data before they throttle our “unlimited” plan into oblivion…gee, let me see, the same $30 gets you a 3gb plan today on their oh so generous “tiers” (or was that tears).

  22. JC

    03/06/2012 at 12:16 pm

    I say bullcrap, I called them to see if they could prove to me I’m in the top 5 % and they said they couldn’t but I’ve reached 2G of data and I’ve been throttled. I responded .. So I pay $15 for my wife’s 2G of data and $30 for myself. As a field technician I need my data for maps and other data using apps and can’t. I asked them how do businesses stay connected if I can’t ? The rep said I can transfer you to that department. I responded so business plans with unlimited aren’t throttled and she said business was different than private. What AT&T is doing should be illegal.. Isn’t the fact that they purposely slow you down against the agreement of unlimited

  23. John Watson

    05/06/2012 at 10:40 am

    CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT!
    We need Gloria Allred

  24. Dwane in Tx

    06/10/2012 at 2:25 pm

    AT&T is total BS! I have been throttled 2 months in a row. I never recieved notification, i called support thinking my phone was broken or something. Never used more than 3gb! My 4s is almost useless! I want in on the lawsuit!

  25. Dennis Welch

    06/18/2012 at 1:05 am

    Good luck on the law suit, however you can beat them at their own game. When they throttle your speed, simply stream Pandora & begin downloading as many apps from the app store as possible. Because of the slow speed the downloads take forever but once the apps have downloaded delete them & download again. Repeat this process as many times as possible. They hit me after a little over 3gigs had been used and I was 10 days into the billing cycle. After 21 days of steady streaming Pandora & continuous downloading from the app store I have racked up over 43 gigs. At their current pay model that’s $400 dollars( $10 for every gig over 3) that they won’t get from me.

    • Mattgella

      06/25/2012 at 10:29 am

      Same thing here! I was just throttled today, two weeks into current billing cycle. I will be streaming Pandora 24/7 in an effort to see how many gigs of data I can rack up. 43 gis is a lot, but I’m going to see if I can pass that amount. I too suggest that other users who have been throttled do the same thing!

  26. Dennis welch

    06/25/2012 at 1:08 pm

    Pandora alone won’t get you there, make sure you are downloading apps at the same time that Pandora is playing. Good luck on passing 43. lol

  27. JM

    07/21/2012 at 10:06 am

    What a foolish idealistic post. “prisoner’s dilema”…… what a retard!
    What you do is takt AT&T to small claims court. I have taken 6 companies to court and won each time. If AT&T throttles my service I will do the same to them. By contract they CAN’T throttle me.

  28. Ryan Cowell

    09/14/2013 at 5:26 am

    You can disable throttling with iOS 7.

    Turn off LTE , turn on Airplane mode. Attempt to call yourself, it will ask to disable Airplane mode. Quickly disable and call yourself, hang up after 5 secs of being connected. Enable LTE and voila! Back to normal speeds.

    I read about this somewhere else, tried it on iOS 6 and it didn’t work. So far it’s working with iOS 7 went from .2mb/s to 30mb/s

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