Both of the major cell phone carriers offer “unlimited” plans for iPhone and other smartphone users. However, Matthew Spaccarelli enjoyed his iPhone a little too much. He received a nasty message from AT&T informing him that he was in the top 5% of data users for the month. This made him a candidate for a practice called data throttling. This is when a company, like AT&T purposely slows down one person’s connection in order to discourage extreme usage. Basically, until the next billing cycle, Spaccarelli could still use his iPhone as he pleased, but he would have to put up with severely lower speeds.
AT&T is trying to get by with a loophole here. They say that because they don’t limit the actual data used, they have not breached or false advertised by using the word “unlimited” in conjunction with the data plan. Spaccarelli disagreed and filed a small claims lawsuit against AT&T for breach of contract. The judge sided with Spaccarelli and found for the plaintiff, leaving AT&T owing Spaccarelli the sum of $850. No big deal for a giant company like AT&T, right? The problem is this opens up many, many more people to do the same.
The loophole really doesn’t work in this situation. Think about it. AT&T offers unlimited service. To put it in layman’s terms, think of this way. AT&T offers unlimited service at a rate of 100 MPH. So the maximum a person could get out of it is to move at 100 MPH twenty-four hours a day for thirty days a month. So, the service is not truly unlimited because it is bound by the physical restrictions of the servers and equipment that AT&T provides the service with. However, the maximum amount would therefore be 100 X 24 X 30, which comes out to 72,000 MPH of data per month. So, by the contract, users are entitled to this much data if they desire it. By restricting speeds on heavy users, AT&T breaches the contract, because the user is not allowed to reach the maximum that would be available otherwise. (Computer geeks — we know that data is not measured in miles per hour; this was just a way of making it easily understandable to everyone.)
AT&T responded to complaints against the practice by discontinuing the top 5% program and just applying the slowdown whenever a user tops 3 gigabytes of data use. Customers that purchase the limited plan are shut off at 3 gigabytes.
Cases like this are leaving many companies worried. Once again, it’s not that the lawsuit’s verdict will hurt AT&T that much, but it opens up the possibility for more customers out there to jump on the bandwagon and do the same. Somewhere down the road, consumers could band together in a class action lawsuit that could be much worse than $850.