A man in California has successfully sued AT&T Mobility in a Los Angeles area small claims court over the carriers actions against customers that are still paying for the long discontinued unlimited data plans that were eliminated in 2010 in favor of tiered data plans following the launch of the iPhone 3GS. At issue was the fact that the customer was being throttled well below the threshold for the current tiered data plans with defined limits of 3GB per month on the device or 5GB with the capability to tether.
As the customer claimed that AT&T was throttling access between well below the threshold for the current data plans at 1.5 GB per month despite being on a no longer offered data plan that did not explicitly specify transfer or speed limits, AT&T would have been found guilty of making false claims about their service and the judge agreed, awarding the man $850 for damages incurred as a result of the loss of service quality and reliability despite admitting to using his iPhone to tether his iPad, which is not allowed under the old unlimited plan and had forced an automatic switchover to the tiered plan with tethering after he was caught by AT&T’s system.
Even though he was using 5GB in a given month, which was ironically the old unspoken limit for unlimited data, the customer complained to the carrier and the old plan was reinstated, which led to him filing the suit in small claims court after he noticed the instances of throttling. AT&T has long been the most customer hostile carrier regarding data access for those with older data plans, as it does not adequately spell out how much data is too much before hitting the 5% threshold to trigger throttling on the old iPhone unlimited data plans and actively refuses to state such limits publicly.
In practice, the amount transferred according to multiple reports is much less than current tiered rates until the next billing cycle, anywhere from 1.5-2GB, which renders data access useless and forces customers to either cease using data for the remaining cycle or make the decision to abandon the unlimited data plan for the tiered plans, which many of the 17 million remaining customers with unlimited data plans are loathe to do.
Another key point that gives AT&T an unfair advantage in this situation is last year’s federal ruling that upheld AT&T’s current clause in its service agreements which prohibits customers from starting class action lawsuits against the carrier and forcing customers to face AT&T individually via arbitration or small claims court, which unfairly cedes the advantage to AT&T no matter how prepared the Plaintiff is. However, cases like these do show that it is possible to win against carriers, provided the proper research and preparation is undertaken beforehand as this case demonstrates.
For it’s part, AT&T plans to appeal the decision, merely stating in rather terse, disconnected language that the contract dictates the carrier’s relationship with the customer.