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

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.