Californian AT&T iPhone Owner Wins Samages in Data-Throttling Case

Posted by at 2:55 pm on February 25, 2012

A California man was awarded $850, or $85 for each month remaining on his contract, in damages against AT&T after he saw that his data was being throttled after he had reached up to 2GB of monthly data, less than the 3GB of data the company currently charges $30 per month for.

Matt Spaccarelli, the plaintiff in the case, had an “unlimited” plan that he had maintained after AT&T ended such plans in 2010. Such customers are “grandfathered in” and continue paying $30 per month for “unlimited” data as long as they do not end their contract or move to a “tiered” plan, which the carrier now offers, reports AppleInsider. AT&T had announced that it would begin throttling unlimited data customers beginning last October.

AT&T current charges $20 per month for 300MB, $30 for 3GB and $50 for 5GB of data. Tiered customers are not throttled, but “unlimited” customers are, even though the original agreement makes no mention of throttling for high data use.

Throttling data has become an issue for AT&T due to the overwhelming success of smartphones, the iPhone in particular (which makes up about 70 percent of the company’s smartphone subscribers). Users get a warning that they are nearing their limit or that their speed will soon be throttled before enforcement takes effect.

Spaccarelli’s argument was that the throttling was not part of the original agreement, that he is entitled to “unlimited” data per his agreement, and that AT&T began throttling his speed long before he had reached the 3GB threshold now used in tiered plans, making it unlikely that he was in the “top five percent.” He told the court he believed that AT&T unfairly reduced the speed of unlimited users’ data while allowing tiered plans to remain unthrottled.

AT&T, represented in court by area sales manager Peter Hartlove, had argued that the carrier has a right to modify or cancel contracts if data usage is so high that it bogs down the network, but could not convince the court that Spaccarelli’s 1.5-2GB usage had done so, particularly when the company continues to sell data options of more than twice that amount that are not throttled.

Although the contract with AT&T states that if a customer wins an arbitration dispute, the company will pay a minimum of $10,000, Pro-tem Judge Russell Nadel of the Ventura Superior Court in Simi Valley opted to award Spaccarelli $85 for each of the remaining 10 months on his contract. Spaccarelli had asked for the full $10,000.

Spaccarelli’s win could open the door to other “grandfathered” unlimited data users to sue AT&T if they believe they are being unfairly throttled.

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