Fight the power: How to take AT&T to court if you're throttled

Fight the power: How to take AT&T to court if you're throttled

Summary: Some tips on how to take AT&T to small claims court -- and win! -- if your iPhone's "unlimited" data plan has been throttled.


A couple weeks ago ZDNet's own James Kendrick called AT&T's data throttling "the great rip off" -- and I couldn't agree more.

It seems to me this constitutes a drastic change in the terms of contract the customers have with AT&T. How much more can a contract change than from unlimited to a random cap that triggers throttling? According to those I’ve spoken with the throttling is so severe it renders the iPhone virtually unusable for most things due to the horribly slow speeds. If that’s not a change of contract terms I don’t know what is.

This video by App Advice demonstrates just how dramatic AT&T's data throttling can be. In one case reducing 1.5Mbps download speeds to 0.12Mbps. Ouch!

Last month iPhone user Matt Spaccarelli filed a small claims case against AT&T arguing that it unfairly slowed download speeds on his iPhone's "unlimited" data plan -- a process known as "throttling." Spaccarelli was awarded $850 by California Pro-tem Judge Russell Nadel in Ventura Superior Court in Simi Valley. AT&T says that it will appeal.

MacTech (via 9to5Mac) has posted an excellent article with tips on how to take AT&T to small claims court if your data has been throttled. Granted, it's not to be considered legal advice, but it may help a few more consumers fight that power that be.

  1. Where to file -- most lawsuits, even those from small claims, need to be filed in the jurisdiction where the defendant can be found. In this case (and let’s use AT&T), AT&T may have corporate offices in only a few locations, but since they are a nationwide phone company, they are usually subject to jurisdiction anywhere. What this means is that you can file your small claims suit in the courthouse most convenient to you.
  2. Make sure you have a copy of your contract, and please review the entire agreement. It may be a slow read, but you need to know the terms of it. You may be able to use these terms to show that AT&T does not have the right to slow your data speed.
  3. You need to be able to show that you have an unlimited data plan, which means you are entitled to unlimited data. You need to also show proof that AT&T had limited your data streaming. You next have to argue that AT&T has no right to charge you a fee for unlimited data, and then not supply it. It is not your fault that AT&T can’t keep up with demand for data. If you can even show that you are using less data that some of the fixed rate plans, such as the 3 gigabyte plans, that is even better (fixed plans using more data than you use, but they are not being throttled back). Make sure you have been paying your bill on time and that you are not late, since that could be used against you.
  4. Make sure you have an amount for damages. You need to show how you were damaged by not having data streaming. This could be by showing lost business opportunities or showing how much you have paid for the service you never got.
  5. Be polite, and make sure you are prepared. The court will listen to you, but if you don’t know what you are talking about, then your argument gets lost.

So there you have it. Chime in in the TalkBack if you've been throttled and especially if you plan to take AT&T to court.

Topic: AT&T

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  • Time for a class-action lawsuit here

    In order to get a ruling that totally stops this overcharging for bandwidth. 50 dollars a month for 3GB's? Sorry, but that is just PRICE-GOUGING!

    No excuse for that.
    • double post

      Deleted. Okay ZDNet - let's fix this again. I love the look and feel but the basic functionality is still not right with these talkbacks.
    • .

      AT&T is charging $30 for 3GB and $50 for 5GB.... I believe the author was showing that the unlimited plan was $30 when that plan was available so you need to compare that to the 3GB plan at the same price. You are off just a bit with your pricing. This reflects the 2012 price increase.
    • Cannot be done...

      AT&T sales contract disallows class-action lawsuits.
      • Wanna bet?

        It may say it, but we'll see how long that lasts. They're not gonna get away with this indefinitely.
    • If you & I pay for unlimited, we should get unlimited.

      We should sue ATT or any company for that matter for not living up to their obligations in their contract. Also there should not this daily update to your contract that they can "amend" your contract at will without your written & signed consent so they can say the that your "unlimited" data plan is now subject to throttling just because the company sent a amendment just a few minutes ago without your real (reading the whole thing through really understanding it) consent.
      ATT or any other company should not sell unlimited service if they cannot provide unlimited service.
      Yes, time for a lawsuit against this "unlimited" policy but not providing it in good faith. Also there should not be any amendments to your contract without you signing it and then returning it to the vendor and if you don't agree to it that amendment doesn't take effect. In short, the definition of what a contract is all about, an agreement between two parties that can't be changed unless both parties agree to them but these contracts now sounds like corporate dictatorial edicts.
  • I'd love to see a class action lawsuit

    Against ALL carriers for double charging of data for those who use the tethering/hotspot plans. If you have a 3GB data plan and tethering/hotspot you are using the same bucket of data so essentially the carriers are double charging.
    • AGREED!

      BUT, AT&T has split it up into two separate plans rather than "adding on tethering" so it probably circumvents any lawsuit you're after. Their rate plans are $30 for 3GB of data without tethering. Or you can pay $50 for 5GB of data and get tethering capabilities. So they are actually giving you more bandwidth for the money. I think most courts would rule in their favor on this one. Unless you argued that they were violating you somehow by not offering the tethering on a lower data tier. But I think that's their choice so we might be out of luck on that one.

      I'm waiting to see what Verizon does with this supposed "family data plan" and if they roll with it, I'm jumping ship to them.
      • A Better Data Option?

        What I'd love to see are tiered data plans based on usage. Sort of a pay as you go plan. I'm currently paying $10 per GB of data but I never use 3GB of data (my biggest month was 1.4GB, I think. I'd much rather pay $10 for each GB of data I use.
      • I'd jump ship anyways...

        AT&Ts network sucks. No commercial-induced bias here either. If you don't live in the middle of a major metroplitan infrastructure, AT&T's quality and consistency is awful. This applies to any area that the lesser and rural telcoms controlled.
      • I think...

        ...he means for the case of those who are tethering their phone, but not using data through anything but their phone.
    • I agree, this is double charging for the same data.

      If my data plan allows 2 gig per month for $10 why should I have to pay another $10 for "teathering"? I use the same amount of data if I download a powerpoint to my phone or to my laptop. This is just like in the 60s when the phone company wanted you to pay a monthly fee for each telephone extension and the 70s when cable TV wanted you to pay extra for a second cable drop in the bedroom.
  • Just Switch to Straight Talk

    I decided not to put up with this BS. I switched my iPhone to Straight Talk's $45 unlimited voice, data and text plan. I'm saving a ton of cash and the service has been great so far. Even made a YouTube video about it since it went so well.
    • nt

      provided they operate in your area.
  • I just love ZDNet obfuscation

    Data and speed are two different things. If you can still get all the data you want, but at a lower speed, you still have an unlimited _data_ plan. So what does AT&T really guarantee -- data, speed, or both?
    • harmed

      AT&T is intentionally limiting your speed when others are not. You are suffering by AT&Ts actions when you are not violating the terms of the contract. They agreed to supply unlimited data. You are using data. You are being harmed because they believe you are using too much and they slowed your access. If AT&T slowed all their users, they couldn't be held liable, but then they would lose customers.
      • They're lying to people

        They say "unlimited data" in their plans to entice you, but it's not.

        Comcast does the same thing. If they're going to cap your data usage, they need to say so. Cut the false advertizing BS.
    • Data and Speed ARE 2 different things

      however an unlimited data plan such as the one I have with AT&T or the one that Sprint users have is useless without the speed to use it. The obfuscation you accuse ZDNet of is not there in this case - AT&T is throttling back the speed of the data to make it useless to do anything other than use the device as a phone or to send text messages... no email, no streaming music, no internet surfing, nothing.
    • *ahem*

      You're thinking like the AT&T lawyer.

      If I buy "unlimited" data, then I can get data that's only limited by things outside AT&T's control, like the number of users logging onto the pipeline.

      If AT&T "limits" my speed, then my total data transfer is quite "limited", and thereby not "unlimited" as my contract claims.
  • At the very least

    AT&T should allow those unhappy with their alleged "unlimited data" grandfathered plans to break contract without paying an early termination fee, but I doubt that will happen.