Gosh, sure do hope the T-Mobile merger goes through! (no, not really)
Isn't it annoying when someone sneakily texts critically important information to you, instead of calling or writing a letter like a normal person would? Like, that you're fired. Or that your significant other is angry with you and wants to talk. Or that your phone company has determined, based on a measurement system they refuse to disclose, that they're going to just start taking money directly from your pocket as though they were mugging you.
You bet it is, as smartphone owners fortunate enough to be AT&T customers are beginning to find out. When AT&T announced earlier this year that they would begin throttling smartphone users above a certain data usage level starting in October, it was widely assumed whatever standard they used would be as arbitrary as it is indefensible. Now, however, we know precisely how arbitrary AT&T's caps are. Customers don't have a set data limit, which would at least be measurable (though still indefensible since 'data' isn't mined like tungsten); instead, their data usage is averaged with the total network of customers. Simply put, if you happen to have a busy month and end up in the top 5 percent of data users on AT&T's network, congratulations! You will now experience the magic of being bumped down from HSPA+ to 2G for the rest of the billing cycle.
The image to your above right is of a text received by one such customer (via Cult of Mac).
If this reminds you of the way Bank of America used to arrange customer billing history by transaction amount instead of transaction order, so as to increase the risk that their customers would overdraw their account multiple times and thus, incur abysmally high overdraft fees, it should. This system makes it almost impossible for customers to keep track of their usage in order to prevent being throttled. Were it a set amount of data, users could at least check their activity and slow down when they begin to approach their limit. Instead, they're going to be screwed should they happen to fall within the top 5 percent, whatever number that 5 percent happens to be a fraction of. Brilliant, if you think about it, because it prevents AT&T from ever having to not overcharge people while providing less service. If their customers decide, en masse, to strictly limit their data usage, it doesn't matter. The top 5 percent are affected no matter how frugal or profligate they're being.
It's precisely the kind of underhanded tactic employed by businesses when they have almost no competition and start to view their customers as easy marks instead of the reason they're able to exist. Bank of America was eventually forced by law to stop their institutionalized grift, but there appears to be no end in sight for those who use AT&T as their phone service provider. One more reason AT&T's failure to gain federal approval to purchase T-Mobile is excellent news.
Thanks to a comment from Tom's Guide reader dlux, we've learned that AT&T is doing this to other smartphone customers too -- not just those on iPhone-specific plans.