AT&T has paid a penalty for their heavy handed effort to force unlimited wireless data users on to the company's metered plans. According to the FCC consent decree
, AT&T will be paying the government $700,000 and refunding consumers after pushing grandfathered unlimited data toward metered plans.
After eliminating their unlimited data option in 2010
, AT&T grandfathered those users -- though most knew the fun wouldn't last. In 2011 AT&T announced they'd start throttling wireless data customers
who consumed "more than their fair share" of network data. AT&T stated that the throttling would specifically focus on just the top 5 percent of the heaviest data users in a billing period. AT&T also stated targeted users consumed 12 times more data than the average of all other smartphone users.
Whiile grandfathered users were allowed to retain their unlimited-but-throttled status, AT&T waged a quiet war on those users -- using any excuse to nudge those customers toward metered usage plans. Everyone from customers who moved to customers who used AT&T's phone insurance plans (or used their warranty) were migrated to metered billing, and the FCC says it took a year to investigate mounting complaints about the practice.
"Today’s action sends a clear signal that wireless carriers can’t wrongfully charge consumers,’" said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a prepared statement -- even though the penalty once-again likely pales to the money made from the practices being punished. "These strong FCC accountability measures will ensure customers are not over-charged. I am pleased that AT&T is taking the appropriate steps to resolve this issue."
Under the agreement AT&T must complete an audit of their billing practices, and users impacted could see refunds ranging from $25 to $30 per month depending on data usage. Impacted users should be contacted by AT&T during their normal billing cycle.Update
: AT&T has provided us with the following statement on the settlement with the FCC:
"The consent decree involves less than 0.03 percent of our wireless customers, who inadvertently had a monthly data plan added to their account after getting a new smartphone through a warranty or insurance exchange or after relocating.
We had already discovered and corrected the issue by Nov. 2010, and had given refunds to customers who contacted us. Based on a review of our refund process, we believe a vast majority of those customers affected by the billing error have already been made whole. But as part of the decree we’ll be providing a bill-page notice to affected customers, offering refunds, and giving them the option to return to a data pay-per-use plan, or to have a data block applied to their phone."