AT&T to start throttling heavy data users, cracking down on jailbreak tethering

AT&T plans to start cracking the whip on heavy data users on its network, throttling the connection speeds of those who gobble up the most bandwidth, and cracking the whip on people who use jailbroken iPhones as wireless hotspots.

The data throttling will begin in October and mostly affects users grandfathered into AT&T’s unlimited data plan, which it no longer offers. It’s not the only carrier to do so – Verizon and Virgin have both announced plans to cut the data speed of heavy users in order to protect their networks – but as for details, AT&T has released none, according to a story from 9to5Mac.

We’re not sure how AT&T might actually enable the throttling. Virgin is beginning to throttle its heavy data users in October as well, bringing its heavy users down to 256 Kbps once users cross a threshold of 2.5GB for the month. AT&T will probably institute similar parameters, slowing down data connections for users once they get somewhere between 2 and 4GBs.

As 9to5Mac points out, AT&T has seen a huge increase in data usage on its network – something like 8,000 percent since 2007. So throttling isn’t a terrible alternative for intense usage, as long as AT&T doles it out fairly, especially when the top 5 percent of users account for as much as 30 percent of total network usage. In addition to a whole lot of iPhones, AT&T has also seen a big influx of other device on its network that eat up a lot of bandwidth, and it’s about to start rolling out faster 4G LTE devices as well.

AT&T says that just like the data tiers it rolled out a couple years ago in replacement for its unlimited data plan, 95 percent of users won’t be affected by throttling at all. According to 9to5Mac, “we’ve been told that 12,000 emails, 12,000 website views, 4 streaming movies and 5 hours of streaming music will start to put you close to that upper range of usage.”

Jailbreakers will be affected, too

Apparently, AT&T is also looking into putting a stop to users who jailbreak their iPhones and use them as wireless hotspots for Internet connection through a process called tethering as well, according to a story from Engadget. Tethering is available through AT&T, but at a fair cost: $20 per 2GB of data on top of the regular data plan for iPhones.

Users who jailbreak their iPhones, or hack them to get around Apple’s security locks, are able to tether them to other devices without paying the extra data rate. Couple that with users who are grandfathered into AT&T’s unlimited data plan from back when it was available and you’ve got a recipe for some seriously high data use.

AT&T is threatening to bounce users from the unlimited plan if they’re caught tethering outside the limits of AT&T’s plans, Engadget reports. It also says that AT&T reports sending out letters to users who have been tethering jailbroken devices outside of the plan. They outline three options:

1. Stop tethering and keep their current plan (including grandfathered unlimited plan)

2. Proactively call AT&T or visit our stores and move to the required tethering plan

3. Do nothing and we’ll go ahead and add the tethering plan on their behalf – after the dated noted in their customer notification.

Just how soon AT&T will start sending users to the tethering plans without their choice isn’t clear, but what is clear is that jailbreakers are about to see the end of the free data tethering gravy train.

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