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Caution: AT&T “Unlimited” and Other Plans Become Unusable When Throttled

See also: How to not Waste/Lose a Huge Chunk of Cellular Data for Personal Hotspot : Disable Background Downloading.

Last autumn, I went over my data plan allocation. AT&T abruptly throttled it to about 16 kilobytes per second (128 kbps), and there it stayed until I forked over more money for a new more costly plan

A big part of the over-usage was the awful Apple auto-download feature, which chewed up nearly 5GB of data over my personal hotspot downloading the latest manure pile that is XCode.

That was a few months ago. This month, my kids used too much and I ran out of data on a trip yesterday, which rendered anything but very simple email unusable—16 KB/sec renders many web sites unusable too—I was basically hosed.

AT&T won’t sell more than 20GB/month, which is barely adequate for my travel needs. And (beware!) AT&T has a dirty trick : if you switch to the “Unlimited” plan, read the fine print: the so-called Unlimited plan will start throttling after using only 10GB, rendering it slower than the 20GB plan for the 2nd 10 GB. It is unclear how slow the throttling becomes on the Unlimited plan after the first 10GB—but given the track record over the years of being lied to repeatedly, I cannot take the risk.

Another dirty trick, easy to mis-read and almost certainly intentional: The plans are quoted in GB (gigabytes). The throttling is quoted in kilobits. If the plan is in gigabytes, then the throttling speed should be in kilobytes (16KB), not kilobits (128Kb). Most users will see "128" and assume it is in the same units as the data plan (I did).

The AT&T representative repeatedly tried to upsell me on the Unlimited plan, ignored my complaint, and repeatedly lied about data rates while trying to upsell. Shortly thereafter, he admitted that he had no idea what a kilobit versus a kilobyte was. All told, he wasted an entire hour of my time and in the end nothing was fixed. He said he’d issue a $25 credit; this was not done (yet one more lie).

Later that day, I upgraded from the 16GB plan to the 20GB plan. AT&T then backdated that to Feb 4, and continued throttling data to 16 KB/sec.

Fortunately my trip was a short one, because data is still throttled to 16 KB/sec for several more days.

Bottom line: every AT&T interaction I’ve had over several years has entailed what seem to me to be intentionally misleading offerings and statements. From what I can tell, AT&T trains its personnel to do so as a matter of course.

AT&T throttling of 128 kilobits per second = 16 kilobytes per second = unusable.
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