Are You Really Getting Unlimited Data? Probably Not

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The question of whether so-called unlimited data plans are truly unlimited has been in the news lately after Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler publicly criticized Verizon for a change in its data throttling policy. Data throttling, the practice of deliberately slowing down data speeds, is hardly a new policy at the company.

The carrier has been using data throttling to limit subscribers on its 3G network since at least 2011, according to ReadWrite. However, the practice is typically used to slow down subscribers who have surpassed their monthly data allotment. For example, if you subscribe to a 3GB data plan, your carrier may throttle your speed if you exceed that allotment, which seems reasonable enough.

But what if you subscribe to an unlimited data plan? In late July, Verizon announced that, starting in October, it would begin slowing down data speeds for the heaviest users of its 4G network who are on unlimited plans during peak usage times at certain cell sites. Verizon said the new policy would apply to “data users who: fall within the top 5 percent of data users on our network, have fulfilled their minimum contractual commitment, and are on unlimited plans using a 4G LTE device.”

This sparked an angry response from Wheeler, who wrote the company an open letter questioning the fairness of the move. “It is disturbing to me that Verizon Wireless would base its ‘network management’ on distinctions among its customers’ data plans, rather than on network architecture or technology,” wrote Wheeler in the letter, provided in full by The Washington Post. “The Commission has defined a network management practice to be reasonable ‘if it is appropriate and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management purpose, taking into account the particular network architecture and technology of the broadband Internet access service.’”