On Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission announced that AT&T will pay $ 60 million to settle a case with the agency. It claims that the company lied to customers about its & # 39; unlimited & # 39; data plans because it would smother their data if they ever exceeded a certain threshold.
The settlement requires AT&T to deposit that $ 60 million into a fund that will be used to provide "partial refunds" to customers who signed up for unlimited data plans before 2011 (when the company's throttling policy came into effect). The company is also excluded from marketing plans due to the proposed speed or amount of data without disclosing any limitations.
"For example," writes the FTC, "if an AT&T website advertises a data plan as unlimited, but AT&T can slow down the speed after consumers have reached a certain data cap, AT&T must make these limitations clearly visible."
Tuesday's settlement resolves a 2014 FTC court case. At the time, the agency filed a complaint alleging that AT&T misled consumers about its data plans and how much data they would receive each month before their access was delayed. "AT&T has promised its customers & # 39; unlimited & # 39; data and in many cases it has not kept that promise," said FTC chairman Edith Ramirez in 2014. "The problem is simple:" unlimited "means unlimited."
In the summer of 2015, the Federal Communications Commission imposed a $ 100 million fine on AT&T for similar misleading marketing practices regarding its data plans. According to the FCC, the agency received thousands of consumer complaints that led them to investigate the allegations of smothering.
AT&T did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
"AT&T promised unlimited data – without qualification – and failed to deliver on that promise," said Andrew Smith, director of the Consumer Protection Agency of the FTC in a statement. "Although it seems obvious, it reiterates that internet providers should inform people about any limitations on the speed or amount of data promised."