Home - , , , , - Thanks to Net Neutrality, Sprint No Longer Throttling the Top 5% of Users

Thanks to Net Neutrality, Sprint No Longer Throttling the Top 5% of Users

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that to insure compliance with the new Net Neutrality rules that went into effect Friday, Sprint has discontinued a type of throttling that affected 5% of users. Under the discontinued policy, Sprint had been de-prioritizing its heaviest users' data if the network segment or tower they were connected to was congested, even if they hadn't used up their current hi-speed data allowance.

The discontinued policy identified the top 5% of data users each month and de-prioritized their data service the following month whenever network congestion occurred. De-prioritizing is technically not throttling but it has the same effect, reducing a user's data speed below what the network is capable of. The policy applied to Sprint Postpaid, Sprint Prepaid, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile customers. It was spelled out in each brand's terms of service but not prominently mentioned in sales literature. Here's are the relevant sections of Boost Mobile's terms as of March 22, 2015 thanks to the Internet Archive:

To more fairly allocate network resources in times of congestion, customers falling within the top 5% of data users may be prioritized below other customers attempting to access network resources, resulting in a reduction of throughput or speed as compared to performance on non-congested sites 

...The top 5% of data users will be determined on a monthly basis. If a customer is identified as falling within the top 5% of data users, the customer will be subject to network prioritization for the following month.

The current terms make no mention of the top 5% of users:

The goal of congestion management is to ensure that all users during times of congestion have access to a fair share of the network resources and that no user is starved of resources. When congestion occasionally occurs, customers may experience reduced throughput or speed compared to their normal experience on non-congested sites.

I can understand why Sprint dropped it's policy of throttling the top 5% of users. It was poorly disclosed and disclosing it clearly, as required by FCC and FTC policy, would have sent a negative message to potential customers.

Even worse, Boost's old terms of service said that customers who typically use 5 GB or more in a given month are likely to fall within the top 5% of data users. That seems low, but if true it means that most users of Boost's $55/month 10 GB plan would likely fall into the top 5% every month and be subject to throttling when the network is congested. Based on the low data speeds many Sprint network users report it seems like the Sprint network is often congested. Selling a plan that claims to provide 10 GB of high speed data and frequently throttling users who exceed 5 GB sounds like false advertising to me.

Sprint's action came after the FCC fined AT&T $100 million for poorly disclosed throttling of customers on grandfathered unlimited plans.

According to an ArsTechnica article, T-Mobile and Verizon have policies similar to Sprint's discontinued one. T-Mobile de-prioritizes unlimited plan users who have used more than 21 GB in the current month whenever the network is congested. Verizon does the same after 6.5 GB for users with non-LTE devices on grandfathered unlimited plans. I wouldn't be surprised to see some network prioritization policy changes at T-Mobile and Verizon soon.

Just to be clear, this change has nothing to do with the throttling that occurs when a user exceeds the high speed data limit on their plan. For example Boost's $45/month plan includes 5 GB of high speed data. After 5 GB data speeds are still throttled to 128 Kbps or less.

Related post: It's Not Just Virgin Mobile, Top 5% of Boost Mobile and Sprint Users Will Be Throttled Too

23 comments:

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  1. We the people own the spectrum, which our government manages on our behalf to prevent interference and abuse of public domain. Why isn't the government putting more consumer friendly requirements on auctions like google tried to do?

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    1. Because government and corporations have gotten entirely too cozy.

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    2. If you want to get technical, no one owns the airways. We pretend like we do. Soon there'll be a tax on breathing.

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  2. This is government doing what it should, proper regulation that stops deceptive business practices.

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    1. "We might increase the prices toward the latter part of the year and then we might eliminate it in the future."
      -CEO Marcelo Claure, yesterday, speaking about unlimited data plans.

      Thanks to our band of brilliant lawyers at the FCC for their net neutrality "proper regulation," and the top 5% data hogs everywhere.

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    2. Unlimited data is unsustainable. There isn't enough available spectrum to give large numbers of customers as much data as they can possibly use.

      Unlimited data is a holdover from the days when everyone used feature phones which made it hard to use much data. AT&T and Verizon killed their unlimited plans years ago. T-Mobile and Sprint have been hinting that they will do the same since long before Net Neutrality.

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    3. Net neutrality policy impact accelerates the demise of unlimited data plans.
      Reduced network management of the top 5% puts more pressure on the network from those data hogs, and gives more people an incentive to join the herd.

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  3. I understand why an MVNO can throttle you after you have used up your plan allotment of High Speed data. But, let's say that, since the beginning of the month, you have used nothing but low speed data, streaming music @ 128 kbps for instance. Why in this example, aren't you still owed 5GB of HS data?

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    1. My example a little unclear: In this example your plan allotment is 5 GB of HS data.

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    2. Throttling thresholds are based on the volume of data consumed not its speed. Carrier software probably wasn't written to track what percentage of use is below a certain speed.

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  4. I dunno, Dennis, it seems like an easy enough technical task to measure only cumulative high-speed data usage, and allow everything slower to be truly "unlimited", as they advertise.

    Cricket says, "After you use up your high-speed data allowance, your speeds will be reduced for the remainder of your billing cycle." Deceptive.

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    1. This doesn't seem deceptive to me -- it's exactly what I thought it would be.

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    2. cricket fail

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    3. John, I thought that Cricket statement was clear. What did I miss? How is it deceptive? How will I be clobbered in a way I didn't expect???

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    4. I just think Cricket, for example in the quote above, should delete "high-speed" so that their description of the throttling threshold reads, "After you use up your data allowance, your speeds will be reduced for the remainder of your billing cycle." That way it would be clear that are measuring TOTAL data usage, not just high-speed data usage, when establishing the throttling threshold. I was surprised a few months ago when I went to download a youtube video, only to discover that I had been throttled, when my prior usage in the billing cycle had been almost exclusively Songza streaming audio, @ 128kbps.

      I know AT&T is not the only one who uses this sleight-of-hand, but the "everybody does it" argument sure didn't persuade the FCC when they were assessing the $100 million fine...

      P.S. I love Cricket's good prices and generally straightforward business practise.

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    5. "I just think Cricket, for example in the quote above, should delete "high-speed"
      I agree. Cricket AVERAGE speeds are very low, much lower than the top 4 carriers' averages, according to OpenSignal user's objective test results. Just over 3 Mbps down. That is not "high-speed" any more. Maybe the FCC should fine Cricket for deceptive advertising of 8/4 Mbps. Their slow proxy servers are probably slowing down the data on purpose.

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    6. " Their slow proxy servers are probably slowing down the data on purpose."

      Why would they do this? There seems to be no reason to intentionally slow data.

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  5. Now how about T-Mobile de-prioritizing the MVNO companies who use their towers!

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    1. I consistently get 16-17 Mbps down on various LTE phones with either Ptel, US Mobile or Ting in a crowded metro area, so I sure don't feel like my service is lacking.
      Are you an actual T-Mobile MVNO customer?

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    2. I was a US Mobile and BYO GSM customer and my speeds were either throttled or prioritized. It may just be my area idk, at best either the LTE/HSPA+ download speeds were under 2 Mbps and usually averaged just under 1Mbps.
      I still have Lyca legacy SIM and using paygo HSPA+ is just pathetic.

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    3. I used to have a legacy Lycamobile SIM, and the data speed was slow everywhere. The proxy servers were in the UK, so the ping times were very long. They claimed they were not thottling by it sure felt that way. Lyca was a unique case.

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  6. Congratulations; this article was cited today in Item 4 of the Fierce Wireless newsletter.

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  7. Its a good thing that these deceptive practices are going away. Just because I may have used all my data last month does not give anyone the license to put my phone on the welfare data setting. I thought some companies were doing this and I was right. Sprint sucks anyways but I am wondering does Verizon secretly do this? If they do I sure bet they won't do it anymore. Its a good thing the FCC is cracking the whip on this stuff.

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