AT&T will be throttling users who download too much, apparently to make the proposed acquisition of T-Mobile seem more necessary.

On Friday, AT&T stated that the top 5% of smartphone users who subscribe to ‘unlimited data’ plans will face a download cap as of October 1st. A number of observers have already called the plan “blackmail” in AT&T’s campaign to get approval of a proposed acquisition of T-Mobile. The press release closes with what can certainly be construed as an ultimatum: “Nothing short of completing the T-Mobile merger will provide additional spectrum capacity to address these near term challenges.”

AT&T’s unlimited plans were discontinued last year, but users who had already subscribed to the much-coveted tiers were ‘grandfathered’ in. New customers are subject to a cap, and any data usage over the cap is billed at a higher rate -- similar to a the typical arrangement of ‘minutes’ on a wireless telephone plan.

AT&T has denied reports that they throttled speeds in the past, despite numerous rumors and some seeming proof from disgruntled customers. Proposed acquisition T-Mobile readily admits to throttling wireless data customers speeds, and indeed lists the details among the features of its ‘unlimited’ data plan. Verizon has recently discontinued its unlimited plans, leaving Sprint as the only major wireless provider to offer an unlimited plan.

The proposed acquisition of T-Mobile is being hotly debated on antitrust grounds by the Department of Justice and the FCC. Opponents such as Sprint point out that this would leave the wireless landscape in a duopoly with 80% of the market split between AT&T and Verizon, and dismiss AT&T’s claims that the deal is necessary because of increasing needs for bandwidth.

AT&T has stated that it will notify users who approach the throttling threshold, and the billing change will occur on the following bill period. Obviously, there is no way to access the AT&T database to determine what the actual data cap is, or where your usage might rank until you get that notification. If throttled users are consistent enough about posting their usage level, a few months of this new policy should provide a rough estimate of the ‘safe’ level of data use -- but, being a monthly percentage, there will never be any real certainty.

Interestingly, this seems to imply that the more data that is downloaded by everyone on AT&T’s network, the more any single user will have to download to reach that 5% mark -- especially considering the ever-growing ‘size’ of web pages and apps in an increasingly cloud-based online environment. . The difference between the top 5% and the top 10% may be vast, or it may be a very fine line.


James Lee Phillips is a Senior Writer & Research Analyst for With offices in Dallas, Las Vegas, and New York, & London, IBG is quickly becoming the leading expert in Internet Marketing, Local Search, SEO, Website Development and Reputation Management. More information can be found at The Barrett Group offers executives unique and effective executive career search and career management services. Their fee-based boutique consultancy executive firm works for you, leading the way in executive career search and delivering proven results time after time.