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