FCC Reaches Agreement With T-Mobile About Mobile Speed Disclosures

T-Mobile was asked to give users more accurate info about service speeds they receive, especially after they exceed data plan allotments and are slowed down.

T-Mobile service speeds

The Federal Communications Commission has reached an agreement with T-Mobile USA to ensure that mobile customers who run speed tests on the carrier's network receive accurate results, even when their speeds have been reduced by the carrier when the limits of their monthly cellular plans are exceeded.

The problem, according to the FCC, was that T-Mobile allegedly prevented customers from seeing their lowered speeds when running such speed tests after exceeding their monthly data caps, the agency said in a statement.

"In June, T-Mobile began exempting the use of certain speed test applications, which allow consumers to measure the speed of their Internet connection, from customers' monthly high-speed data allotments," the FCC reported.

That led to a related issue, where customers who have their speeds reduced after exceeding their monthly high-speed data cap could not easily understand the results of the exempted speed tests. "When these customers run speed tests that T-Mobile has exempted from data caps, they receive information about T-Mobile's full network speed, and not the actual reduced speed available to these customers at that time. The FCC was concerned that this could cause confusion for consumers and prevent them from obtaining information relevant to their use of T-Mobile services."

For customers who exceeded their monthly data plans, T-Mobile would reduce their data speeds, which is specified under the terms of service that are set out for customers, the FCC stated. "After a customer uses the monthly high-speed data allotment, that customer will receive data at a reduced speed limited to either 128 kbps or 64 kbps, depending on the customer's data plan, for the remainder of the monthly billing cycle." T-Mobile uses the speed slowdowns instead of overage charges when customers exceed their data caps.

The FCC said it asked T-Mobile to take actions to avoid confusion for its customers when they receive slower service but are unable to see that measured correctly using the speed tests. T-Mobile has "agreed to take steps to ensure that customers who run mobile speed tests on the carrier's network will receive accurate information about the speed of their broadband Internet connection, even when they are subject to speed reductions pursuant to their data plans," the agency said.

Under the agreement, T-Mobile will now "send text messages to customers that will enable them to more easily get accurate speed information, place direct links to accurate speed tests on customer handsets, and revamp its website disclosures to provide clearer information about the speeds customers actually experience," the FCC revealed.

"The FCC is committed to ensuring that broadband providers are transparent to consumers," Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the FCC, said in a statement. "I'm grateful T-Mobile has worked with the FCC to ensure that its customers are better informed about the speeds they are experiencing. Consumers need this information to fully understand what they are getting with their broadband service."

T-Mobile will implement the agreement within 60 days under the terms of the deal.

To comply with the agreement, T-Mobile will send customers a text message once they hit their monthly high-speed data allotment linking to a speed test that customers can use to determine their actual reduced speed, according to the FCC. T-Mobile will also provide a button on customer smartphones linking to a speed test that will show actual reduced speeds, and the company will "modify the text messages it currently sends to customers once they hit their monthly high-speed data allotment to make it clear that certain speed tests may show network speeds, rather than their reduced speed."

In addition, the updated text messages will also provide more information about the slower speeds that will be provided after customers exceed their data cap, according to the FCC. T-Mobile will also modify its Website disclosures "to better explain T-Mobile's policies regarding speed test applications and where consumers can get accurate speed information."

The FCC has been busy looking into speed issues by carriers and Internet providers throughout 2014. In October, Verizon gave up on its plans to throttle back data speeds on its 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) network for customers who are its biggest data-consuming users, reversing an earlier decision that the company had unveiled. The slowdowns had been planned to start in October.

Much of the criticism for Verizon's original throttling plans came from the FCC's Wheeler, who called the proposed change "disturbing" in a July letter to the company.