Slow Phones May Mean Data Throttling

If you're smartphone web surfing and streaming are slowing down toward the end of your billing cycle, a weak signal may not be to blame: there's a chance you're being throttled.

Throttling is the slowing down of data to and from a smartphone over a mobile connection. The Federal Trade Commission is suing AT&T for throttling consumers' data speeds by up to 90 percent.

The FTC says even though customers paid for unlimited data, the wireless company has begun throttling after they used just two gigabytes of data in a billing cycle.

"Unlimited means unlimited," said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC's Consumer Protection unit. "If you slow down the service of customers who believe they're getting unlimited data, they're not getting unlimited data."

The government has also called out T-Mobile for throttling. While wireless companies insist they only slow connection speeds in order to manage their networks, the FTC claims they do it in order to force unlimited data customers to buy more lucrative usage-based plans.

This week, AT&T asked a judge to dismiss the FTC's lawsuit, arguing that because of its common carrier status, the wireless provider should not fall under government jurisdiction.

How can you tell if you're being throttled? Free apps like "Speed Test" can help you determine what your data speed is at the start of your billing cycle. Once you establish a baseline, if you experience slowdowns later in the month, test your data again: if it's dramatically and consistently slower, you may have been throttled.

What can you do if you feel you're being throttled? Unfortunately, not much: try calling your carrier to complain. If you get no satisfying response, you can always switch carriers, but there's no guarantee they won't throttle you, too.

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