Months After Receiving Threatening Letter, T-Mobile to Disclose Speeds of Throttled Customers

**Editor’s Note: Which is America’s top wireless network? Click here to see what we discovered.**

Over the summer, a public interest group let T-Mobile USA Inc. know that it planned to lodge a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission over a decision that related to disclosures.  

T-Mobile had decided to exempt speed-testing applications from subscribers who were subject to lower data speeds after they had exceeded their monthly high-speed data allotment. The apps had allowed consumers to measure the speed of their connections. T-Mobile had reportedly decided to disclose the actual speeds on the network, but not those that were subject to the downgraded or so-called throttled speeds.

In a letter submitted to T-Mobile in August, the nonprofit Public Knowledge contended the carrier’s practice violated Internet disclosure regulations related to network management that were adopted by the FCC in 2010 and upheld by an appeals court early this year.

“While it may be academically interesting for subscribers to learn what their unthrottled connection speed might be, it is practically useful for them to be able to determine their actual, real world, connection speed,” Public Knowledge wrote in the letter. “Public Knowledge asks instead that T-Mobile comply with Open Internet rules and allow speed test applications to accurately reflect subscriber experience at the moment of the test.”

Approximately three months after that letter was submitted, the FCC has announced that T-Mobile has agreed to improve its disclosures. Among other measures, T-Mobile has agreed to send a text message to customers, linking to a test they can use to determine their reduced speed after subscribers reach their monthly high-speed data allotment. T-Mobile also will provide a button on smartphones, linking to a test that will depict actual reduced speeds, according to an FCC news release.

“I’m grateful T-Mobile has worked with the FCC to ensure that its customers are better informed about the speeds they are experiencing,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. “Consumers need this information to fully understand what they are getting with their broadband service.”

The additional disclosures T-Mobile agreed to provide “will be sure to prevent any confusion and are another solid Un-carrier move,” said Andy Levin, senior vice president of government affairs, T-Mobile, in a statement.

Public Knowledge’s letter may have exerted pressure on T-Mobile to reach an agreement with the FCC. Shiva Stella, a spokesperson with the nonprofit organization, said “the letter is the first step in the complaint process.” Public Knowledge did not file a full complaint with the Commission.

“We commend the FCC for moving quickly to investigate our complaint against T-Mobile, and are encouraged that the FCC and T-Mobile were able to come to an agreement that increases transparency for T-Mobile’s customers,” said Michael Weinberg, vice president of Public Knowledge, in a statement.

Weinberg, however, expressed concern “that T-Mobile continues to prevent its subscribers from using the speed test application of their choice.”

Since the summer, the FCC has been investigating wireless carriers’ speed reduction practices. Last month, in the face of criticism from Wheeler, Verizon Wireless nixed a plan to slow the speeds of some 4G LTE customers who subscribe to unlimited data plans.

Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission has sued AT&T for throttling the data speeds of customers who have subscribed to unlimited data plans. AT&T Mobility failed to adequately reveal to customers that they would suffer a reduction in data speeds if they used a certain amount of data in a billing cycle, and a number of customers using 3G devices have suffered between a 65 percent and 90 percentage reduction in data speeds under AT&T’s throttling programs, according to the lawsuit. AT&T has characterized the FTC’s allegations as “baseless” and said the company has been honest with its customers.

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