Define ‘Unlimited’ For Me, Please, AT&T?

AT&T has started to ‘throttle’ – slow down – the connection to some cell phone users with ‘unlimited’ plans:

Some Wireless Carriers Slow Data to Smartphones That Use a Lot – Brian Chen via

Mr. Spaccarelli, 39, a student from Simi Valley, Calif., was streaming an episode of “The Office” to his iPhone late last year when he received a text message from AT&T. “Your data usage is among the top 5 percent of users,” the message said. “Data speeds for the rest of your current bill cycle may be reduced.”

The playback became so slow that the show was unwatchable, Mr. Spaccarelli said, so he shut off the phone and went to bed.

For several days afterward, the data speeds on Mr. Spaccarelli’s iPhone were so slow that checking e-mail, Web browsing and using apps that required an Internet connection were impossible. Unhappy, he sued AT&T in small-claims court in Simi Valley, where he argued that AT&T could not sell him an unlimited data plan while significantly limiting its speeds.

A judge ruled in his favor last Friday, and he won $850. AT&T has said it will appeal the judge’s ruling.


While defining unlimited is difficult, AT&T does know how to define one thing clearly.

The company’s terms-of-service agreement, to which every wireless customer must agree to use its products, forbids people from filing class-action lawsuits against it, so disgruntled customers have to fight the carrier one by one. To help them, Mr. Spaccarelli created a Web site,, containing the documentation he presented to the judge.

And coercive agreements that limit users rights to participate in class action suits have very generally been found to be unenforceable, as was the case in the Amazon dekindling of Orwell’s works in 2009.

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