If You Use AT&T, This Might Be Why Your Phone’s Been Slow

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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Photographed by Mark Iantosca.

Does it seem like it takes forever to play a simple YouTube video on your phone? Well, it's not just you being impatient: Carriers like AT&T have been deliberately slowing your connection speed. And now, the F.C.C. is cracking down on the practice.

The Federal Communications Commission is fining AT&T $100 million (its largest fine ever) for promising unlimited data, but throttling speeds once users hit a certain usage level. For those that aren't familiar, throttling works like this: Imagine all those bits and bytes of data your phone uses streaming to your phone like water through a hose. You pay for a) how fast that water flows and b) how big of a bucket you fill up each month. When your data gets throttled, the carrier decides that when that bucket is filled to a certain amount, it's going to squeeze that hose so less water comes out. In AT&T's case, it was throttling users so hard that they were getting speeds up to ten times slower than the minimum they were paying for!

The act of throttling in itself isn't a crime, though. It can be necessary in order to ensure that everyone is able to get a decent connection on the network, especially when things get busy. Rather, the F.C.C. claims AT&T failed to disclose the fact that they were doing this, which is in violation of its rules about corporate transparency. AT&T denies the allegations and is fighting the charges (and that hefty fine), saying that it has been fully transparent with its customers and given them plenty of notice about its policies.

Rather than be slapped with a similar fine, Sprint also just decided to eliminate its practice of data throttling. Sprint had irregularly been throttling the data speeds of its heaviest wireless users during peak times. Sprint said it believes what it was doing would have been allowed under the new rules, but dropped it, "just in case."

We're happy the F.C.C. is finally making service providers deliver the coverage they promise. Our cellphone bill is way too expensive to not be able to stream the new season of True Detective on HBO Now.

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