We had previously reported that AT&T is cracking down on those who illegally tether their iPhones without a tethering plan, and now we’re learning that the carrier is sending out text messages stating that if users do not either cease to tether without an appropriate plan or continue to tether sans a tethering plan, the carrier will force the user to the correct plan on the next billing cycle.
The carrier has been sending out courtesy free text message warnings to those users that the carrier is ‘detecting’ as using the tethering capabilities of the iPhone without the appropriate plan; that message reads:
AT&T Free Msg: We’ve noticed you’re continuing to enjoy the tethering feature with your smartphone service. Remember, you need a tethering plan ($45/mo, incl. 4GB) to use this feature, so we’re planning to update your line with the required plan soon. Visit att.com/dataplans or call 888-860-6789.
Tethering is the process of sharing the iPhone’s 3G mobile broadband connection with other devices, like a laptop or any other WiFi-enabled device. Prior to AT&T officially supporting tethering and launching the Data Pro plan for tethering, jailbroken iPhone users were able to install an app called MyWi, which allows unofficial tethering.
Unofficial tethering would violate a subscriber’s terms of service agreement with AT&T. Per AT&T’s contract, a user cannot tether or use their phone’s mobile broadband connection on a device other than the intended phone. That said, it’s unclear how AT&T is able to discern if a user is just a normal heavy data user on their iPhone–perhaps by streaming music, videos, and other multimedia content–or if a user is illegally tethering. The carrier’s response to IntoMobile about how it is discerning tethering users who have not subscribed to a Data Pro plan is vague:
The ability to manage our network and enforce our policies enhances the quality and consistency of the customer experience; this is nothing new. In this case, our network is able to determine if a smartphone customer is using the device as a broadband connection for other devices.
The problem is that for users who have been grandfathered into the $30 unlimited smartphone plan, tethering would move those users to a metered plan, which tops out at 4 GB for $45 (including the amount of data consumed for tethering). With AT&T “planning to update your line with the required plan” this may be unfair to users who are suspected of tethering, but perhaps is just a heavy data consumer because they download a lot of iTunes movies, for example. Of course, the carrier is saying “our network is able to determine if a smartphone customer is using the device as a broadband connection for other devices.”
Whatever the case may be, be prepared to be bullied into a tethering plan if you’ve been enjoying the capability without paying AT&T for it previously. The carrier is on the prowl to switch heavy data users into the correct plans, for better or worse. In AT&T’s defense, it’s in your service agreement.