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FTC says AT&T customers can get payments for data throttling

An AT&T retail store.
An AT&T retail store. (Handout photo courtesy AT&T, Graphic by The Desk)

The Federal Trade Commission says AT&T has agreed to issue $60 million in refunds to current and former customers who had certain unlimited data plans.

The settlement follows a lawsuit filed by federal regulators that accused AT&T of throttling data connections for some customers who were on unlimited data plans, and who weren’t fully told that their connections would be slowed after they used a certain amount of data during their billing month.

“AT&T promised unlimited data, without qualification, and failed to deliver on that promise,” Andrew Smith, the director of the FTC’s consumer protection division, said in a statement. “While it seems obvious, it bears repeating that Internet providers must tell people about any restrictions on the speed or amount of data promised.”

The FTC alleged AT&T throttled customers after they used as little as 2 gigabytes (GBs) of data on their plan, even though customers were told their data connections were “unlimited.” The marketing of the plans made it seem like customers would be able to use as much high-speed data as they wanted, when AT&T actually used network management practices to prioritize higher-paying subscribers over those who had lower-priced unlimited plans.

AT&T initially challenged whether the FTC could bring its federal lawsuit, filing an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The appellate court found the FTC was able to bring the lawsuit, and both sides settled a short time later.

According to the FTC, AT&T has already issued $52 million in refunds to current and former customers who were covered by the settlement. Another $8 million in funds has been set aside by AT&T to pay eligible former customers who have not yet received a payment.

The FTC says eligible customers are those who had an unlimited data plan with AT&T between October 1, 2011 and June 30, 2015. Customers must have experienced data throttling at some point during that time frame, must be a former AT&T customer, and must not have received a payment from the company. (Current AT&T customers are not eligible to apply because they’ve already received a payment in the form of a bill credit, the FTC says.)

To receive payment, the FTC says former customers must apply for a refund at this website. The FTC says it is unclear how much former customers will receive in payment, because the final amount will be determined on the number of people who apply for a refund. All applications for a refund must be received by May 18, 2023.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).