FTC Sues AT&T for Throttling 'Unlimited' Plans

Get this: "unlimited" apparently means "no limits." Who knew, right? It turns out that there is a modicum of watchdog left in the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after all, because the regulators announced plans to sue AT&T for throttling its Unlimited Plan because, the Commission says, throttling is a limit.

The FTC filed a suit against AT&T in a federal court on Monday, and frankly it's about time.

"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."

That will come as news to AT&T—and perhaps some of its competitors—who have long operated under the belief that it could advertise "unlimited" plans, and then huff and puff and play the part of the victim when its customers had the temerity to actually take Ma Bell up on the offer.

"The FTC alleges that AT&T, despite its unequivocal promises of unlimited data, began throttling data speeds in 2011 for its unlimited data plan customers after they used as little as 2 gigabytes of data in a billing period," the FTC said. "The throttling program has been severe, often resulting in speed reductions of 80 to 90 percent for affected users. Thus far, according to the FTC, AT&T has throttled at least 3.5 million unique customers a total of more than 25 million times."

The complaint charges AT&T with violating the FTC Act by changing the terms of customer contracts after the fact, and of not even disclosing exactly what was happening to those customers, even when they renewed.

"Pray I don't alter it any further," several AT&T executives thought, but had the presence of mind not to say out loud.

It's nice to see the FTC do its job of protecting consumers—we need more of that, please. And while you're at it, please note what Verizon has been doing in the broadband space and make it stop.