AT&T and FTC settle data-throttling dispute

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AT&T and the Federal Trade Commission have finally reached a settlement as part of a dispute that’s been ongoing since 2014 over an accusation that AT&T throttles the data speed of wireless users on unlimited data plans.

The terms (and value) of the settlement reached aren’t yet clear. And it seems the settlement likewise isn’t final, since both parties asked the US District Court in San Francisco for the FTC to be allowed to review and eventually vote to approve the settlement.

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Both parties reportedly reached this deal on Aug. 2, which would mean things are still in a kind of suspended animation state until the beginning of November. We mentioned above that it’s not yet clear what all this means and what effect it will have on consumers, though some of the previous reporting about this deal has hinted that money damages of some kind could be awarded, in addition to the possibility of an injunction or some other prohibition levied against the carrier.

The FTC’s initial bone of contention with AT&T seemed to be more about disclosure than the actual practice of throttling consumers. Indeed, the agency sued AT&T for being deceptive about the “unlimited” claim, claiming in its suit from back in 2014 that AT&T “has misled millions of its smartphone customers by charging them for ‘unlimited’ data plans while reducing their data speeds, in some cases by nearly 90 percent.”

AT&T hit back with a defense that insisted, among other things, that only a small number of users were affected. The practice of slowing down data speeds for heavy users is also now much more widespread — so, again, it remains to be seen what effect this settlement will have.

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