For those who wonder why the US is still bickering about net neutrality and whether it’s really a problem, take note: T-Mobile has been fined $48 million for purposely slowing some users’ internet speed.
The Federal Communications Commission announced on Oct. 19 that T-Mobile had misled consumers about the limitations on its so-called “unlimited” data plan, putting the brakes on data access once a user was in excess of 17 gigabytes in a given month. Customers could still use their mobile service for online access, but at a dramatically reduced speed.
“In order for consumers to choose and use the internet service that best fits their needs, they must not be subjected to the caprice of undisclosed restrictions that mislead them or contradict representations from providers about their broadband internet access service,” the FCC says in a 21-page order. “The Transparency Rule requires that consumers receive accurate information that is sufficient for them to make informed choices about the purchase and use of broadband internet access service. Putting this important information in the hands of consumers is critical to a well-functioning, thriving and competitive broadband ecosystem.”
As CNET notes, this is the second time the FCC has imposed fines on a wireless service provide for misleading customers—in 2015, AT&T had to pay $100 million for doing the same thing to subscribers.
In addition to the fine, T-Mobile will have to pay $7.5 million to the government, with the balance of the damages being translated into “consumer benefits” for T-Mobile and Metro PCS customers, CNET reports. Among the list of forms those “benefits” will take: 20% off or up to $20 off the price of any in-stock accessory in addition to 4GB of additional data on any mobile line. Customers will be notified of their options by December 15.
T-Mobile also will provide $5 million in free devices to low-income schools to help disadvantaged students have access to technology in their homes to finish their homework, a program that will begin next October.
The LA Times points out that the limitations of service applied only to T-Mobile’s “unlimited” data plans and not its Binge On streaming service, on which customers can watch videos and shows included in the package without using their data plans.