Economy

T-Mobile Ordered To Stop Secretly Throttling Customers’ Data

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

T-Mobile CEO John Legere speaks at T-Mobile's Uncarrier 5.0 event in Seattle.

T-Mobile has been slowing customers’ connections if they go over their monthly data limits without telling them. But after a federal investigation, the company must reveal how much it slows down customers’ access.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigated complaints about T-Mobile throttling communication speeds, obfuscating how much access is actually slowed. Consumer advocates, including Public Knowledge, filed complaint letters with the FCC about how broadband companies — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile — slow down customer access on unlimited data plans. Public Knowledge also asserted that T-Mobile was purposefully making it difficult for customers to understand how slow their connections were.

But in an agreement with the FCC, T-Mobile agreed to be more transparent with customers, giving them access to accurate data speed information. According to the plan, T-Mobile must now send text messages to customers who hit their monthly data threshold, according to an FCC news release Monday. The company must also provide a button on smartphones that lets customers run speed tests. The network currently slows connections to 128Kbps or 64Kbps based on the customer’s plan.

T-Mobile already provides third-party apps that let customers gauge their Wi-Fi connections to avoid sapping their data allotments. But the FCC wants the company to go a step further and let customers measure their own connection speeds and the network overall. To do this, T-Mobile must explain how the tests work and how much their connection will be slowed down if they exceed their monthly cap.

Wireless companies use throttling to to prevent traffic jams and keep their networks from overloading, but have eased up on the practice under scrutiny in the net neutrality debate. President Obama came out in support of net neutrality in November, calling for an outright ban on throttling and paid prioritization.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued AT&T in October for offering unlimited data plans and throttling customers’ speeds up to 90 percent. Verizon Wireless recently canceled plans to throttle customers’ data connection speeds Wednesday following public pressure and FCC scrutiny. The company planned to slow speeds for unlimited 4G LTE customers who were heavy data users, similar to what it has done to 3G data users in the past.