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AT&T Fined $60 Million for Slowing Down Unlimited Data Plans

(Image credit: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

It's a dirty secret about unlimited data plans that they're not actually unlimited. Wireless carriers will slow down your data speeds if you use too much data in a given month. And while that may not be widely known, a government agency has decided that at least one carrier needed to do a better job of letting customers know when their data might be slowed.

That would be AT&T, which is going to pay out $60 million to resolve a Federal Trade Commission allegation that it misled customers by offering them unlimited data plans and then throttled their speeds without warning. The FTC announced the settlement today (Nov. 5) as part of a resolution from a 2014 complaint about AT&T's practices.

These days, every carrier has some sort of threshold where they reserve the right to start slowing data, even for unlimited customers. On AT&T's latest unlimited plans, which just went into effect this week, for example, your speeds on the Unlimited Extra plan can be slowed if you use more than 50GB of data in a month. The cheaper Unlimited Starter plan at AT&T allows the carrier to slow down speeds at any time if its network gets congested.

The difference between now and 2014 is that these thresholds are clearly advertised on AT&T's website. And as part of the FTC settlement, AT&T can't advertise that it offers unlimited data "without disclosing any material restrictions on the speed or amount of data."

As for that $60 million payout, it's going to be distributed to affected customers, whether they're still with AT&T or have moved on to other wireless providers. The refunds will go to anyone who had signed up for unlimited plans prior to 2011 but were throttled by AT&T, the FTC says.

Best of all, you don't have to submit a claim to get your refund. If you're a current AT&T customer, the refund will appear as a credit on your bill. Former AT&T customers will receive a check. It's unclear just how big a refund we're talking about here.