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AT&T Caps and Now Throttles Many of Its Wireless Broadband Customers to 100kbps Uploads

Phillip Dampier July 6, 2010 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Data Caps, Wireless Broadband 7 Comments

The classic one-two punch of Internet Overcharging is to limit your broadband usage -and- throttle speeds downwards.  AT&T wireless customers in several major cities across the United States are experiencing that for themselves over the long holiday weekend, reporting upload speeds have been throttled down to 100kbps or less (one-tenth of the speed most customers enjoyed as late as last week).

Speedtest.net has shown AT&T network throttling in many parts of Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Denver, Des Moines, Detroit, Fairfax, Houston, Kansas City, Las Vegas, New York, Orlando, Phoenix, St. Paul,  Salt Lake City, and Washington, D.C.

The speeds are so noticeably slow, it has become a national story as irate customers find their wireless broadband service first usage capped at just 2GB per month, and now upload speed throttled to the point of unusability.  AT&T promised a statement explaining the issue, but one has not yet been forthcoming.  Some speculated the throttles were designed to reduce congestion on AT&T’s network over the holiday, while others suspect a technical fault.

Reducing your wireless speed reduces the impact on AT&T’s backhaul network, which in turn reduces congestion and the number of dropped wireless calls.

The introduction of speed throttles for “heavy users” is a favorite in countries where overcharging schemes predominate.  Most permit a preset amount of traffic to pass at normal speeds, but once customers exceed an arbitrary allowance, a temporary speed throttle gets applied to dramatically reduce speeds and discourage further use.  Some limit customers to a selected amount of traffic per day, others per month.  Once the window expires, the throttle is automatically removed.

While there is no indication AT&T is applying such a throttle at this point, the company has strongly opposed efforts to ban such schemes.  AT&T has a history of antagonizing its wireless customers with poor network performance, and has been judged the least favorite provider by Consumer Reports.

Currently there are 7 comments on this Article:

  1. jr says:

    The customer is always wrong at AT&T

  2. Sam says:

    Stop jumping to conclusions before you know the details. It’s an Alcatel Lucent software bug in 3G basestations. It’s also been affecting the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area for the past 2-3 weeks, not the past weekend.

  3. Some guy says:

    I’m still absolutely dumbfounded as to why people give AT&T the benefit of the doubt regarding, well.. anything. I’m looking at you, Sam.

    • Sam says:

      If they were intentionally throttling to 100kbps, speedtests would probably hover around 100kbps. However, because reports seemed to be scattered and miscellaneous based on city, it’s more feasible to say a software update pushed to cell sites is what caused the issue. Because it’s more of a firmware bug than anything is why upload struggles rather than speeding up really quick to 100kbps and hovering there.

      Do a speed test on EDGE and then do one on 3G in an affected market. The upstream struggles equally on 3G as it does on EDGE, revealing that it’s not really capping, but what seems as though upstream has defaulted to EDGE speeds in the background. Have you ever gotten above 100kbps upload on EDGE? I doubt it.

      I’m not an AT&T lover. Believe me, if they came out and said it was intentional, it would be the only thing that would make me switch back to Verizon when my contract is up in August.

      Just my $0.02.

      • Some guy says:

        Fair enough; that’s a well thought out reply and I respect that. You make valid points. Sorry for my troll-like comment, it wasn’t my intent 🙁 We should both keep our eyes on this story, however 🙂

      • As the original article noted, “Some speculated the throttles were designed to reduce congestion on AT&T’s network over the holiday, while others suspect a technical fault.” I am not personally prone to conspiracy theories so I’m hardly surprised it’s a technical fault.

        The larger point of my short piece on this is that it’s another example of bad service from AT&T. When you combine it with their usage cap, it’s just another of so many reasons why choosing this particular company for wireless service is just a really, really bad idea.

        I am a Verizon customer myself, but I am completely unimpressed with their pricing as well, but at least you get good service for the premium price you pay. AT&T charges largely the same as Verizon but delivers terrible service for it.

        I don’t put anything past this company.

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