Sprint ends throttling unlimited customers’ data to stay in the FCC’s good graces

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It’s amazing how the threat of legal action can deter giants in the wireless industry from anti-consumer behavior like data throttling and false advertising. The latest case in point? Sprint recently announced that in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Net neutrality rules, which went into effect last Friday, it’ll no longer throttle the heaviest Internet users of its wireless network.

Sprint says it doesn’t believe its policy of “prioritization management,” which it enacted in October of last year, would’ve run afoul of the FCC’s new guidelines, but it’s discontinuing it to avoid potential challenges in the future. Under Sprint’s abandoned plan, the top 5 percent of unlimited data users — including subscribers to Sprint sub-brands Virgin Mobile USA and Boost Mobile — would see their speed dramatically reduced during “heavy usage” and “peak” network times. Throttling hit around 5 gigabytes for most subscribers, from which point a restoration of speeds wouldn’t kick in until the next billing cycle. Repeat offenders were subject to harsher “prioritization.”

Sprint “doesn’t expect users to notice any significant difference in their services now that we no longer engage in (throttling).”

Sprint noted prioritization as a necessary and beneficial move in a Web FAQ late last year. “The goal of congestion management is to enable the majority of users to have access to a fair share of their network at peak times,” it read. “Most customers will notice an improved wireless data experience due to Sprint’s congestion management.”

The carrier’s since changed its tune: a spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that Sprint “doesn’t expect users to notice any significant difference in their services now that we no longer engage in the process.”

The FCC’s worked to aggressively enforce its new rules. On June 17 it announced plans to sue AT&T $100 million for its practice of throttling data of customers with grandfathered unlimited plans. The carrier failed to make its practices clear to subscribers, the FCC alleges, whose capped speeds were “much slower than the normal network speeds AT&T advertised,” and “significantly impaired the ability of AT&T customers to access the Internet or use data applications […]” AT&T said it’ll fight the lawsuit.

“Consumers deserve to get what they pay for,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. “Broadband providers must be up front [sic] and transparent about the services they provide. The FCC will not stand idly by while consumers are deceived by misleading marketing materials and insufficient disclosure.”

Throttling isn’t the only area that’s attracted the FCC’s scrutiny in recent months. The agency joined the Federal Trade Commission in May in slamming Sprint and Verizon with a collective $158 million for “mobile cramming,” the practice of opaquely passing on subscription fees for third-party services like horoscopes and sports scores. The FCC penalized AT&T over similar transgressions last year. And the FCC fined Verizon and CenturyLink for 911 emergency call outages.

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