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Straight Talk's Unlimited Data "Clarification" Isn't Very Clear

Earlier this week, Straight Talk Wireless posted an item on their official blog titled "Straight Talk Data Clarification". It's basically a denial that Straight Talk's unlimited data is capped. As they put it;

"You may have heard rumors online that there is a hard cap of 1.5GB for data on Straight Talk. We want to clear this up for you right away: We are NOT cutting off data at 1.5GB on Straight Talk. The data limit in reference only applies to Bring Your Own Phone (BYOP™) AT&T-compatible SIMs on our sister brand, NET10. In fact, most of our customers enjoy their unlimited data plans with no issues or complaints regarding their data speeds or service. Please see sections seven and eight of Straight Talk’s terms and conditions for full details."

So there's no cap. That sounds good. But we all know that the devil is in the details and the details are supposed to be in the Straight Talk terms and conditions.  So lets take a look at the TOS.

Straight Talk's blog post contains a link that's supposed to go to the terms and conditions. The link actually takes you to a Site Map page. There is a "Term and Conditions" link at the bottom of that page that opens the terms in a small non-resizable pop up window. It's not easy to scan the long document in such a small window. There's a more readable copy of the terms here: www.straighttalk.com/terms

Straight Talk's blog refers us to sections seven and eight of the TOS. That's probably a typo as section eight is about possible coverage map inaccuracies and doesn't mention data at all. I think Straight Talk actually means sections five, six and seven which do cover data usage.

Section 5  says;
"...we reserve the right to deny, modify or terminate Service, with or without notice, to anyone we believe is using the Straight Talk Service and/or Mobile Web Services in a manner that adversely impacts the Carrier’s network."
That seems reasonable, the network is shared by all users and the operator shouldn't allow an individual   to consume so much bandwidth that others are adversely affected.

Sec. 6. has a few examples of prohibited uses that also seem reasonable:

  • Uploading, downloading or streaming of uninterrupted continuous video (Sec 6.)
  • Using the phone to run a data server, host a webcam feed or for peer to peer (P2P) file sharing (Sec. 6)
  • Tethering  your device to a laptop or personal computer other than for the use of Wireless Sync.
However, the final paragraph of Sec. 6 is very broad and appears to allow Straight Talk to throttle or terminate service for any reason, even if the user hasn't violated any part of the terms of service:

"Straight Talk may modify or cancel any Service or take corrective action at any time without prior notice and for any reason, including but not limited to your violation of this agreement."
That makes the rest of the TOS essentially meaningless. Straight Talk can do whatever they want and there's nothing you can do about it.  After referring us to the Terms of Service, Straight Talk's blog post offers some "tips to help you conserve your data" which I think is the real message of the blog post:

  1. Connect to WiFi whenever possible to avoid using data entirely. WiFi Finder can help you discover open WiFi networks.
  2. Close applications that are not in use (this can save your battery, too!).
  3. Turn off auto-updates for apps or change the settings to update over WiFi only.
  4. Turn off automatic photo uploading or change the settings to upload over WiFi only.
  5. Turn off push “as items arrive” email. Instead, set your email account to sync every hour or longer.
  6. Browse mobile friendly websites instead of full webpages, which use more data to view.
  7. Use apps that help you manage data. In Android 4.0 or later, you can set limits and alerts on your usage. Otherwise, you can download 3rd party apps for Android and iOS such as:
    • Onavo – iOS/Android
    • Data Usage - iOS
Those suggestions will reduce data consumption. However none of the activities that we are supposed to avoid are explicitly prohibited by the TOS.  Also, as data is supposedly unlimited, why do users need to conserve it by taking extreme measures like turning off push email, which uses very little data anyway, or worry about connecting to possibly insecure public Wi-Fi "whenever possible".

Reading between the lines, Straight Talk seems to be warning us to use as little data as possible or risk the consequences.  I believe that Straight Talk has a big problem. Something has gone awry with their deal with AT&T and it's no longer profitable to let users on the AT&T network consume very much data. But for marketing reasons Straight Talk still wants to advertise "unlimited" data even though they don't want to deliver it. 

Straight Talk appears to be trying to get as many users as possible off AT&T service and on to one of their other partner networks. They have stopped selling AT&T based SIMs entirely and only offer AT&T powered phones in markets where AT&T is the only carrier.  Existing Straight Talk AT&T users appear to be getting hit with severe throttling at very low levels of usage. Mobile phone user forums and blog comments are full of reports from AT&T Straight Talk users of being throttled after using far less than 1.5 GB of data. Here are a few:

  • Wife used 580mb in a month on her iphone, got throttled and many pages including straight talk site were "access denied" (Howard Forums user)
  • I have had my data cut off nine times now. I have not streamed audio, video, or done anything more than browse a handful of webpages per week. (Android and Me comment)
  • Watched a youtube video (about 3 mins long) and within 24hrs I was throttled. A month later after service renewed I ran speedtest.net and the very next day , throttled again. (Howard Forums user)
If these reports are accurate, Straight Talk seems to be encouraging data consuming AT&T based users to switch to Straight Talk's T-Mobile based service or leave entirely.

The vast majority of complaints about Straight Talk data throttling are from users of the MVNO's AT&T unlimited services. There seem to be very few complaints about data throttling from users of Straight Talk's Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint based services. AT&T and AT&T MVNOs in general seem to be very stingy about data allocations. I recommend avoiding AT&T based data services if at all possible. If AT&T is the only network with service in your area use a service that is honest and upfront about data limits like Airvoice or AT&T's own GoPhone service.

27 comments:

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  1. One could always move to Net10. I know you're still giving money to America Movil, but, at least, they (Net10) are upfront with their data limit using AT&T service.

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  2. I have Net10 AT&T service. same issues and continuos throttling to 256kbps.

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  3. I know 3 people with Net10 & ATT sim.
    Same 256kbps throttling

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  4. Vote with your wallet and leave Carlos Slim and America Movil in the dust. There are plenty of other good options out there where the TOS are much less vague.

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  5. I know about 8 friends that have Net10 and once they go over 1.5GB they get their internet service cut off. Net10 sucks big time.

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  6. Yes, Carlos Slim is doing quite well besides his U.S. interests with Tracfone and its subsidiary services. Why CS has to be outsourced to remain financially competitive is beyond reason with the amount his companies rake in already. There are more choices out there.

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  7. It seems that BYOP ATT is not a viable option with ST and Net10. Bottom Line, though, is they are still the best economical option out there for any other network.

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  8. People write as if 256 kbps download speed is the kiss of death. When I started using the internet, it was POTS with copper wiresand data speeds of 28 kbps to 33 kbps and got all excite at 56 kbps.

    256 kbps is plenty fast for reading websites and checking e-mail. I have VM $35 / month broadband WiMax as a backup for watching videos, etc. The throttle speed of 2 Mbps is still fast enough for Youtube.

    The other suggestion is to use free WiFi that offers speeds faster than 256 kbps. Even my local McDonalds has 1 Mbps download speed.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Well, I tried Ultra Mobile, and they suck big time, haven't been able to make calls to Canada and the U.K. for a while now,their CS reps are either in India or the Philippines, totally incompetent and useless. Granted they only make 25 cents an hour, but even that is way to much, just to answer calls, and do nothing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ya, I agree, Ultra service is pretty crappy, try AirVoice, for $35 a month ($6 more than Ultra) you get double the internet allowance, 4 times the Intl calling credit, on a much better network (AT&T)and U.S. based,fantastic CS.

      Delete
  10. I've had Straight Talk AT&T service since December and have had ZERO problems. I use my phone's data as I need to, and use WiFi when it's available...who doesn't. I can believe that you get throttled if you clearly violate the terms of service, but to get throttled or have data terminated for no reason doesn't seem reasonable to me.

    Why do who make these claims people never:

    a) Post screenshots of their data usage
    b) Videos of their data being throttled or off
    b) Any form of proof other than ranting on a message board

    I even use my phone as a hotspot to check e-mails and browse the web when needed on the road.

    Zero problems. I use it as I need it, and even downloaded a 250MB album from the Google Play store to test out the "daily limit". I'm sure people are doing "something", no way you get cut off or throttled after using 500 MB.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why should we believe you?
      You offer no proof or your claims.
      Maybe you work for ST.

      Delete
    2. Where is your proof, screen shot of your blazing fast data? lol

      Delete
  11. I hate you !!! Net10 & ST

    Returning to ATT Soon.

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  12. @ Derek, good for you!!!! plenty of people have plenty of legitimate problems with Tracfone/Straight Talk, get over yourself!

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  13. Derek just pointed out a major problem. It seems some people get away with violating the T.O.S. and never get caught, while others get caught and throttled the first time they violate the T.O.S. Also, the biggest data abusers seem to have AT&T Sim cards.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But I'm NOT violating T.O.S. If I use my phone as a hotspot to check e-mail and do light web browsing, it uses the same amount of data as if I did it on my phone. 4MB here, 6MB there? No problem. Try it for yourself. I'm not downloading torrents, or streaming Netflix videos. I'm checking e-mail.

      Straight Talk AT&T data is not blazing fast. It's HSPA+ network gets you about 6-7mbps tops (I'm in NYC).

      I technically don't have to post a screenshot, because the burden of proof isn't on me...My claims are consistent with what Straight Talk says they provide. The burden of proof is on those who claim otherwise.

      Plus, for $45...how much complaining can you REALLY do? Just go spend a few extra bucks if you feel unsatisfied :-)

      Delete
    2. You ARE violating Section 6 of the TOS, the prohibition of:
      "-Tethering your device to a laptop or personal computer other than for the use of Wireless Sync."
      Your claims go >beyond< what ST says they provide without restricting use.
      You insist that hundreds of ST users who post data restriction problems on the forums must prove their claims before we should believe them. So you should prove your claim, if you expect anyone to believe you.

      Delete
    3. Derek = Newbie Fanboy.

      Delete
  14. I'm sure it has much more to do with congestion and location than "never getting caught" abusing a so called unlimited plan, seems like the,TOS mentioners think being ultra vague is perfectly fine.

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  15. use more wifi and straight talk won't throttle you. meaning don't use your data and therefore you can keep your unlimited supply of data from being used up. haha. straight talk might as well be charging you for your wifi. lol

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  16. Well, that's the great thing about all of this. You can do your own research, make your own decision, and spend your money the way you want to. Or you can just IGNORE me, it's the easiest of the choices.

    My point is, I am having a great experience with Straight Talk, especially since I'm coming from one of the "Big 4". I use approximately 700MB - 1.2GB per month (casually), first on an iPhone 4S, and now on a Nexus 4. I would advise to just do your own research. This isn't a knowledge competition, we are talking about saving money here.

    Also, go tell Straight Talk that there is a user out there tethering 3-5MB here and there in an airport to check e-mails, if it grinds your gears so much. Maybe others are having horrible experiences, I on the other hand am not.

    Hope my screenshots help others with their research. We all do things at our own risk, but at $45 a month, how much complaining can you really do? That's my take.

    http://postimg.org/image/6cfpgef99/
    http://postimg.org/image/ve086qgnh/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can complain about truth in advertising (or lack thereof.)

      Delete
    2. So, this story has changed in two days. Now we know it's hotspot tethering only for 3-5mb here and there in an airport to check email, not:
      "I even use my phone as a hotspot to check e-mails and browse the web when needed on the road...I use it as I need it,..."

      And now he admits he is violating the TOS, but only by a little...

      Real nice to know that one user (out of 22M in the US) has had "zero problems" for about 4 months. Makes you want to go out and sign up right away? Oh, sure.

      Delete
    3. Here is the perfect ST customer. Averages less than a gig a month, only 23-40mb per day. Will not REALLY complain, cause he is only paying $45/month. Probably speaks fluent Spanish, for the eventual CS call. They need more people like this!
      Just don't tell him he could save $1/month and use his gig about any way he wants on PureTalk.
      He could *really* look at websites in the airport!
      He could even speak normal English to those nice folks in GA!

      Delete
    4. Actually, PureTalk saves several dollars more per month. They do not add the taxes, fees and state sales taxes that ST adds.
      Walmart skips the fees but still charges sales tax in states that collect it, and they can take a couple to days to deliver the PIN.
      PureTalk does not charge me e911 or sales tax, even though my state collects it from operators like Virgin and Tmobile who operate nationwide.
      PureTalk does not prohibit tethering or streaming audio and video.

      Delete
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