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AT&T to Unauthorized Tetherers: Pay Up or Else

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AT&T (s t) is tired of giving customers who are sharing their smartphones’ data plans via unauthorized tethering a free ride, BGR reports. The company is sending out emails, letters and text messages to users who are tethering their devices without paying for the service, letting them know that their free ride is over.

The news first came via users, who received emails explaining that AT&T had noticed that, though they have tethering capabilities, they aren’t subscribed to AT&T’s official tethering plan. AT&T confirmed this, and outlined three options for users who tether their smartphones without a plan:

  • Stop the unauthorized tethering and keep your current plan.
  • Sign up for the DataPro 4 GB Smartphone Tethering plan, which costs $45 per month ($25 for smartphone data and $20 for tethering) by March 27.
  • Do nothing and be automatically enrolled in the DataPro 4 GB plan beginning March 27.

Users who have grandfathered unlimited plans will have to either give up the plan in order to get tethering, or discontinue the practice altogether to keep their unlimited usage. AT&T doesn’t explain how it’s discovering which customers are using tethering, or why it’s policing the practice now. It may be fairly easy to spot heavy usage patterns or identify the source of traffic on AT&T’s end, and it might also be that the company was content to leave things alone until unauthorized tethering became a significant problem. The availability of MyWi for jailbroken iOS (s aapl) devices makes it incredibly easy to tether an iPhone, for instance, and it’s also not hard to root an Android (s goog) device and install a tethering app, no matter your network provider’s restrictions.

AT&T must be confident about its methods for identifying tethering users since it’s planning to automatically switch users to its official tethering plan beginning March 27 if unauthorized access continues. I don’t see this going down so well with customers, many of whom could try to argue that they weren’t tethering, or that someone else had enabled the feature on their device without their knowledge (“My kid jailbroke my iPhone to get network access on his iPod touch while we were on vacation,” for example).

I understand AT&T wanting to protect its network and its bottom line by cracking down on bandwidth hogs, but it’ll be interesting to see whether this hardline approach ultimately does more to harm customer goodwill than it does to hinder unapproved usage.

12 Responses to “AT&T to Unauthorized Tetherers: Pay Up or Else”

  1. Amos nonyu

    So atnts takin ur tetherin away huh? Well im all for protestin this injustice. Well if u still have unlimited data heres what u should do : use netflix or other apps to abuse bandwidth as much as possible, plug it in and stream HD all nite long. Take away our tethrin willya…

  2. Paying $20 a month just to have access to a service you might want to use in the future is criminal. Imagine having to pay monthly for the ability to send text messages or to make a phone call. I’ll be glad when they abolish all the faux unlimited plans and then they won’t have to hunt down abusers.

  3. Indu Das

    Here is my qs; if u take the SIM out from phone and use it to get online on laptop etc thru USB/PCMCIA type of broadband card, is that supposed to be tethering ?
    I have grandfathered the unlimited plan & I occasional get online that way at airport etc. So far no message/warning but keeping my fingers crossed .

  4. elguillermo

    It is smart marketing: a way to push bandwidth hog to another network like Verizon … I do not think ATT can harm their customer good will anymore. I do not think there is any goodwill left at all.

  5. Hamilton

    One might also argue that it is “stealing” for AT&T to charge a second time for a sub-par service that they are already charging an exorbitant amount for to begin with. Though since theft is a crime, and unauthorized tethering is not a crime, we can only call it a “violation of terms”, giving, as much as I disapprove, AT&T the right to counter it as they please.

    Either way, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m switching to T-Mobile. They have HSPA in my area!

  6. Richard

    Gotta wonder if Apple and Google are “sharing” app download info and identities with AT&T. As for stealing, I think not. If AT&T sold a customer on an unlimited data plan with no restriction on tethering it seems to me it’s AT&T who should be criticized for changing the game’s rules to suit their biz model. And as for the Target analogy, what if they advertised a sale where you could pay $X for all you could fit in a bag and then, once you were in the store, limited your retrieval options to using only your toes? BTW I am not an AT&T customer and do not tether.

  7. Justin V

    “harm customer good will”? Tethering a Jailbroken iOS device is stealing. No one expects Target to consider “customer good will” when cracking down on shoplifters.

    • I feel it is more akin to buying M&M’s at Target, One day you realize you can get the big bag, for the small bag price, if you say… scan it twice. Yes it is stealing, maybe it’s more like just getting yourself a discount.

    • Dantiano

      how is tethering stealing? I have a jailbroken iOS device and am grandfathered into AT&T unlimited plan. As long as I don’t go over the 5GB un-limit, they should not bother me. If I get a message with this and I have not reached my limit, I will consider it a slap in the face. Why should anyone pay $20/month to flip a switch??? Yes, pay for the bandwidth but only for access to it?? That’s ludicrous!

    • jimbojones

      It is not stealing if you have purchased some amount of monthly bandwith, say 2GB, and you have 2GB going through your phone. Whether it is for surfing the web on the phone or tethering to another device, they’ve got a lot of nerve to insist on charging you twice for the same 2GB of data. Next thing you know they’ll want to charge you a fee for using Netflix, or Pandora within your monthly allotment. It can’t be the consumers’ fault that they didn’t plan for people using their data. They should charge more and call it a day (with no double charges for how you use the data) if it is that important.