What You Need to Know About Data Throttling


man collapsed on small load bar

Stop us if this sounds familiar:

You’ve bought yourself a brand-spanking-new, unlocked smartphone. It’s the perfect device for responding to work emails, checking in with the kids on Facebook, or even streaming a few videos. Now all you need is the right plan. Wouldn’t it be great if it included unlimited data?

Thankfully, the providers you’ve been researching offer unlimited data plans! Or do they?

Fast-forward to the end of the month, and suddenly that video you wanted to stream takes forever to load. What’s going on?

It’s called data throttling, and it used to be the cell phone industry’s dirty little secret. But now, the cat’s out of the bag.

What is data throttling?

Data throttling is what happens when you blow through too much data, so your provider slows down your network speed. Suddenly your fancy 4G device works like a 2G phone – yuck.

But I thought my data plan was unlimited? We know.

If you read the fine print on your “unlimited” data plan, you’ll learn that your data is only truly unlimited through a certain amount. Then, your network speed begins to slow down. So, if you share one too many pictures of Grumpy Cat on Instagram (hey, we don’t judge), you may find that the next time you go to watch a funny video on YouTube, the streaming speed slows to a crawl.

Sadly, data throttling has become common practice for cell phone service providers who aim to limit data usage on their networks and combat congestion, while still flying the “unlimited” data plan flag.

Is this legal?

The short answer is yes. Your service provider is allowed to throttle your network speeds after you’ve reached a certain threshold. However, there are two caveats.

First and foremost, providers need to properly notify customers that plans are only unlimited up to a certain amount of data and that, afterward, they will begin to slow network speeds. Data plans aren’t truly unlimited if they include data throttling, so providers should not be labeling plans as unlimited without a proper disclaimer and sufficient notification (i.e. a big fat asterisk). The FCC has already proven it means business about this — and that transparency is of utmost importance.

Secondly, thanks to the FCC’s net neutrality rules (which were recently upheld in court), providers cannot throttle your network speed for a specific service or application, such as video streaming. Simply put, this means your provider can’t discriminate. If they choose to throttle your network speed, it must be across the board.

So, is unlimited data really worth it? That’s for you to decide. However, you might be surprised to learn you don’t need that much data after all— which means there’s no need for you to dabble in slow speeds and high prices! Instead, look into a provider that offers more flexible plan options so you can get the data, minutes, and texts YOU need.

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