FCC to AT&T: “Unlimited means unlimited”

AT&T to pay a $100 million fine for abusing the dictionary

Credit: Mike Mozart / Flickr

AT&T Mobility, in common with many other service providers of all kinds, uses the word “unlimited” to describe their consumer wireless data offerings. Unfortunately, for consumers, AT&T is using a totally different definition of the word because to the company, “unlimited” has meant “until you reach a threshold of service usage after which we’ll throttle back your performance.”

The FCC, in their usual slow and lumbering way, has finally got around to doing something about this blatant and devious redefinition of “unlimited” (it’s taken them four, count ‘em, four years) and proposes to fine AT&T … wait for it … a record $100 million for misleading customers on the grounds that the company violated the 2010 Open Internet Transparency Rule that required ISPs to clearly and transparently inform their customers about their network management practices.

According to the FCC’s press release:

The [FCC’s] Enforcement Bureau’s investigation revealed that millions of AT&T customers were affected. The customers who were subject to speed reductions were slowed for an average of 12 days per billing cycle, significantly impeding their ability to use common data applications such as GPS mapping or streaming video. 

“Consumers deserve to get what they pay for,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “Broadband providers must be upfront and transparent about the services they provide. The FCC will not stand idly by while consumers are deceived by misleading marketing materials and insufficient disclosure.”

“Unlimited means unlimited,” said FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc. “As today’s action demonstrates, the Commission is committed to holding accountable those broadband providers who fail to be fully transparent about data limits.”

Better late than never and, hopefully, this heralds the FCC being  more aggressive (and faster) in dealing with how US Internet infrastructure is sold, provided, and used.

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