It Depends on What the Definition of “Unlimited” Is

Were you recently screwed by AT&T? You may have been and don’t even know it; or maybe you noticed that slight burning, achy feeling, but didn’t think there was anything you could do about it. Don’t worry, the FTC has got your back.

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today announced it is suing AT&T. The commission is charging the carrier for allegedly misleading millions of its smartphone customers by changing the terms while customers were still under contract for “unlimited” data plans that were, well, limited.

“AT&T promised its customers ‘unlimited’ data, and in many instances, it has failed to deliver on that promise,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement. “The issue here is simple: ‘unlimited’ means unlimited.”

In a federal court complaint filing, the FTC says AT&T reduced the data speeds on “unlimited” accounts. The carrier did so by 80 to 90 percent for affected users, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. … The FTC says AT&T began reducing data speeds in 2011 for its unlimited data plan customers. Although the carrier no longer offers unlimited data plans, the FTC estimates AT&T throttled at least 3.5 million unique customers a total of more than 25 million times.

That’s a lot of throttling. No wonder my neck hurts. OK, so maybe AT&T sucks to the point of fraud and deceit. Is it time to switch or are all carriers terrible? As CNET puts it, more tactfully, “there are no guarantees. So all you can do is make your choice, hope for the best, and be your own advocate if you aren’t pleased.” Uh huh. T-Mobile apparently doesn’t do contracts anymore and Sprint has “Framily” plans. Pick your poison.

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