Why is your smartphone being so slow? It might be intentional; could carriers reveal more?

Click to see Public Knowledge website
Click to see Public Knowledge website

Ever wonder why your cell phone’s Internet access suddenly slows to a crawl? Well, there can be lots of reasons.  But consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge says sometimes, it’s intentional — yet Sprint, AT&T, Verzion, and T-mobile don’t want to own up to the intentional slowdowns, known as throttling The group says that’s a violation of the FCC’s “transparency rule.” AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon could also identify heavily congested areas, but choose not to, also a violation.

The most cynical accusation in the letters: Public Knowledge says T-mobile evades consumer network speed tests by recognizing ongoing tests and exempting handsets conducting them from throttling, preventing consumers from seeing the real impact of the slower speeds.

Public Knowledge sent letters to the four big carriers on Wednesday as a first step towards lodging a formal complaint.  You can see the letters here.  In some cases, the throttling only impacts consumers with all-you-can-eat data plans who use too much bandwidth, as defined by the carriers.

“If the FCC’s transparency rules mean anything, they must require carriers to let subscribers know why, when, and to what speed their connections might be throttled,” said Michael Weinberg, Vice President at Public Knowledge, in a statement.  “Today, Sprint and Verizon subscribers will not know if they are eligible for throttling until after they have crossed the usage threshold.  AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon subscribers will not know they will be throttled until they are actually connected to a congested cell site.  T-Mobile subscribers do not know the actual speed of their throttled connection.  This is far from transparent.”

“In order to comply with FCC requirements,” he continued, “Carriers must disclose eligibility thresholds in a way that makes sense to the public.  Carriers must also tell subscribers – in real time, and before subscribers are already being throttled – where congestion exists on their network.  This information must be in open and accessible formats so that third parties can use it appropriately. Similarly, throttled customers must be allowed to learn the true network speed available to them. Today, Pubic Knowledge calls on AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon to make this data available public or suspend their throttling program.  Public Knowledge also calls on T-Mobile to stop exempting speed test apps from throttling.  If any carrier fail to do so, we trust that the FCC will move quickly to resolve these violations of its rules.”

Verizon announced last month that it would throttle customers in the top 5 percent of users among unlimited subscribers.

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About Bob Sullivan 1387 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.