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AT&T users report getting throttled at 2GB despite 'unlimited' data plans

If you're an old-school iPhone user who still has one of AT&T's unlimited data plans, be prepared for a rude awakening.

Some AT&T customers have reported that they are getting knocked from 3G speeds down to 2G speeds after they exceeded 2GB of data consumption per month despite having grandfathered-in unlimited data plans from the carrier. Blogger John Cozen wrote a detailed post this weekend describing his attempts to get AT&T to justify throttling his data speeds despite the fact that he had only consumed 2.1GB of data on the month.

BACKGROUND: New AT&T smartphone and tablet plans pricier but offer more data

AT&T representatives told Cozen that the carrier begins throttling users' data speeds if they are among the top 5% of data users among users with unlimited plans. In other words, if the top 5% of data users consume 2GB of data or more on their unlimited plans, then they get their service reduced for exceeding 2GB, despite the fact that AT&T offers users tiered data plans that charge $30 a month for 3GB of data.

"This is unacceptable and unfair," writes Cozen. "I signed up for an unlimited data plan at the agreed upon price and am now being throttled for exceeding 2GB of data while those on a 3GB plan paying the same price do not experience throttling. I remain upset and feel taken advantage of."

John Brownlee of the Cult of Mac blog picked up on Cozen's post and asked his readers if they had any similar experiences with AT&T in recent months. One reader chimed in to say that he'd received text messages from AT&T telling him that he was among the top 5% of data users on the unlimited plans even though he'd only used 1.5GB of data on the month. Others expressed similar frustrations.

"The only reason I have stuck with AT&T this long, since the original iPhone, has been the unlimited data plan that I got grandfathered-in," wrote commenter Omaha Sternberg. "If AT&T is going to pull this crap, they can say goodbye to me."

The wireless industry has been moving away from all-you-can-eat data plans and toward tiered service plans for the past couple of years. AT&T got the ball rolling on wireless data caps back in 2010 when it announced it was dropping unlimited data plans for the iPhone in favor of plans that offered between 200MB and 2GB of data consumption per month. Verizon shortly followed suit by saying it would implement a similar pricing scheme for its 4G LTE services that launched commercially in December 2010, while T-Mobile last year said it would start throttling 3G users down to 2G speeds if they exceeded data consumption caps. Sprint is currently the only mobile carrier that offers users unlimited data plans for smartphones, although the carrier does now impose data caps for devices such as tablets that are likely to use greater amounts of data.

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