The Case of AT&T's Incredible Shrinking Broadband Tiers

Updated with AT&T response: Time Warner Cable may have backed off its plans to meter broadband for now, but AT&T still has tiered broadband trials going on in Reno, Nev., and in Beaumont, Texas. And judging from one consumer’s experience with the trial, AT&T has backed off of its planned efforts to offer a 150-GB-per-month download tier — and it doesn’t inform users of the caps until after they’ve ordered service.

An AT&T subscriber near Lake Tahoe forwarded me a letter received via express mail a week after she signed up for naked DSL service from the ISP. The letter noted that AT&T has four tiers that allowed downloads of between 20 GB and 80 GB per month. When we reported on AT&T discussing its trial efforts with the Federal Communications Commission back in November, it said that the tiers would begin with a 20-GB-per-month tier and go all the way up to 150 GB per month. Update: AT&T spokesman Seth Bloom says that customers subscribing to AT&T’s fiber-to-the-node U-verse service can sign up for a higher 150 GB per month tier. While it may have lowered its tiers, t The carrier is sticking with a planned $1 per GB charge for users who exceed their limit.

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The smaller cap for lower speeds is disheartening, but what’s more disturbing is that the customer was able to sign up for broadband service without ever knowing they existed. The ISP makes no mention of caps in its online marketing materials or terms of service (screenshots below), and a sales representative said the carrier had no caps when the customer called in to ask. A week after she ordered her service, the customer said she received a letter from AT&T via express mail detailing the metered broadband limits.

I’ve reached out to AT&T to understand why it was pushing a smaller caps and to also figure out if this particular subscriber’s experience was common. Update: Bloom says visitors who get their information from http://www.att.net can access terms of service information that notes the trial, but we were unable to find the info when visiting from http://www.att.com. As Time Warner’s experience has shown, metered broadband isn’t something that the public is happy about. By not informing customers of the trial when they’re signing up for service, and by detailing one plan before the FCC then implementing another, AT&T is pulling a bait and switch with consumers and possibly regulators.

And for those of you ready to point out that this customer can go elsewhere with her business, the answer is no, she can’t. The local cable company, Charter Communications, doesn’t have cable out to her apartment building just yet. However, it too is planning some form of consumption-based broadband billing as well.

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