Changes to the pricing terms of AT&T's high-speed Internet broadband service go into effect May 2. The changes, which include additional language to several portions of the customer contract, include a data cap of 150GB per month for DSL customers and 250GB for U-Verse subscribers.
"AT&T has experienced a dramatic increase in the amount of data that is sent and received over its wireline broadband networks," company officials announced on the carrier's Website, explaining the change. "This dramatic increase is driven primarily by a small fraction of our customers. In fact, the top 2 percent of customers use about 20 percent of the total capacity on our network and these lopsided usage patterns can cause congestion and slow Internet speeds for other users."
Consequently, customers who exceed their monthly data allowance will be notified after their first offense, and additional notices each time their monthly usage exceeds 65 percent, 90 percent and 100 percent of the monthly allowance.
"The third time you exceed your monthly allowance, you will be billed $10 for each 50 GB of data over your allowance," AT&T said.To avoid such data-hog overage fees, the carrier added, it's important to note not the amount of time you spend online but what you do there."You could spend several hours reading emails, for example, and use less than 1 GB of data," AT&T continued. "You could spend 30 minutes downloading a movie, on the other hand and use 2 GB of data. It is important to remember that it is what you are doing on the Internet, not how long you do it, that determines the amount of data you use."The policy changes-not unlike AT&T's mobile broadband policies, which blamed a tiny portion of users for the bulk of its network traffic-have more than AT&T's top data users concerned, with some viewing it as a possible threat to online innovation."I am concerned that charging more for increased usage would raise prices for some consumers and potentially lead to lower broadband adoption levels," U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said in response to AT&T's March announcement of the changes, according to tech blog Hilicon Valley. "This would undermine our broadband goals as outlined in the National Broadband Plan while undercutting our global competitiveness, and I will be closely monitoring this decision."AT&T officials have argued that its controversial proposed $39 billion purchase of competitor T-Mobile would further the government's objectives for its National Broadband Plan by extending 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution) connectivity to 97.3 percent of the country.(Markey has also been busy of late, prompting the FTC to look into the policies of Apple and other companies that offer free mobile applications with pricey "in-app" purchasing options. "Companies shouldn't be able to use Smurfs and snowflakes and zoos as online ATMs, pulling money from the pockets of unsuspecting parents," Markey wrote to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz Feb. 8.)Other new changes to AT&T's High Speed Internet terms of service include the option for AT&T to temporarily or permanently "modify or discontinue" its services; the ability to "convert customers from our DSL service to our AT&T U-verse High Speed service"; and the right to "terminate the Service of customers who repeatedly harass or abuse our customer service representatives."While it's tempting to think that AT&T's network service may particularly provoke the ire of consumers, the carrier adds that such verbal-abuse protection language is common in consumer agreements."When customers engage in verbal abuse or harassment of our service representatives, or call repeatedly for reasons unrelated to their AT&T Service," AT&T writes, "it creates a bad experience for our employees and prevents them from assisting other customers who truly need help."