ATandT to Apple iPhone, Smartphone Customers: Stop Unauthorized Tethering

AT&T is cracking down hard on iPhone and other smartphone customers engaged in unauthorized tethering of their devices' data connections to other devices.

AT&T has a message for customers who've been tethering their smartphones' data connections to nearby laptops without paying for it: Stop it. Right now.

A handful of applications for jailbroken smartphones, including MyWi, allow owners to tether without having to shell out an additional fee to AT&T. (Users with "rooted" Android smartphones can also install a wireless tether via an easy-to-download program.) However, the carrier has now figured out a way to identify at least some of these unauthorized tethers-and according to a variety of online reports, it's begun sending around e-mail warning them to either halt the practice or sign up for its DataPro plan.

"Many AT&T customers use their smartphones as a broadband connection for other devices, like laptops, netbooks or other smartphones-a practice commonly known as tethering," reads the e-mail, as reprinted March 18 on Boy Genius Report and other blogs and Websites. "Our records show that you use this capability, but are not subscribed to our tethering plan."

Translation from corporate-speak: Gotcha!

With that little technology lesson out of the way, the e-mail then invites the customer to either call the carrier or log onto their account, and subscribe to the DataPro 4GB for Smartphone Tethering plan. That costs $45 per month-the smartphone data plan for $25, on top of a $20 tethering charge-with an additional $10 for each GB used above the allotted four.

"If we don't hear from you, we'll plan to automatically enroll you into DataPro 4GB after March 27, 2011," it continues. "The new plan-whether you sign up on your own or we automatically enroll you-will replace your current smartphone data plan, including if you are on an unlimited data plan."

Those who discontinue unauthorized tethering, apparently, will not be forced onto a different data plan. AT&T's e-mail does not explain how it managed to track down those unauthorized tethers, but the blog Cult of Mac posted an alleged response from an AT&T spokesperson, saying that "our network is able to determine if a smartphone customer is using the device as a broadband connection for other devices."

AT&T had previously been a little slow on the tethering bandwagon, particularly with regard to the iPhone. In early February, however, the carrier began offering an AT&T Mobile Hotspot application that allowed "select smartphone customers" to use their phones as a WiFi mobile hotspot for up to five other devices. AT&T's arch-rival, Verizon, launched a tethering-capable iPhone 4 on its own network around that time.

Apple's iOS 4.3, introduced March 2, offers a Personal Hotspot for the GSM-based iPhone 4, which runs on AT&T's network (as opposed to the Verizon version, which is based on Code Division Multiple Access).

"The new Personal Hotspot feature in iOS 4.3 lets you bring WiFi with you anywhere you go, by allowing you to share an iPhone 4 cellular data connection with up to five devices in a combination of up to three WiFi, three Bluetooth and one USB device," read Apple's statement on the matter. "Every connection is password-protected, and when not in use, Personal Hotspot turns itself off to save battery life."

AT&T seems very intent on bringing the hammer down on those users who tether via a jailbroken application. It probably won't win them any additional fans among customers.