By David Lazarus/Los Angeles Times
All eyes might be on AT&T’s pending acquisition of T-Mobile, but AT&T Internet customers shouldn’t overlook some significant changes the company has just made to their service contract.
Perhaps the most noteworthy addition is a new provision that allows AT&T to limit the online activities of heavy users. Customers who hog bandwidth by downloading high-definition movies or vast quantities of digital music slow the pipeline for everyone else, said ATamp&T spokesman John Britton.
So now AT&T says it will impose caps on data use or limit a customer’s download speed if they’re slurping too much online soup.
“People have a right to behave however they want online,” Britton said. “But we have a right to manage the bandwidth so that everyone has a good experience. This is targeting the top 2 percent of people who use about 20 percent of the bandwidth.”
As of May 2, AT&T will crack down on any DSL user who exceeds 150 gigabytes per month, which is the rough equivalent of downloading 50 high-definition movies. Customers who receive the company’s U-verse broadband service will have a cap of 250 gigabytes.
That may sound like plenty of bandwidth, but factor in digital music, pictures and other content, and some people may see their allotted usage go quickly.
Art Brodsky, a spokesman for the digital-rights group Public Knowledge, said the onus should be on network providers to provide enough bandwidth for customers, not on customers to accommodate the provider’s shortcomings.
Meanwhile, AT&T’s contract changes include a few other eye-opening provisions.
The company has inserted language allowing it to unilaterally upgrade a DSL user’s service to U-verse.
On the one hand, this is cool because U-verse is faster and more versatile than DSL.
On the other, AT&T says U-verse would come with “applicable rates, terms and conditions, which may differ from your previous DSL service rates, terms and conditions.”
In other words, AT&T might charge you more for a level of service you never asked for.
One other provision of note: AT&T’s contract now stipulates that the company can cancel your service “if you engage in conduct that is threatening, abusive or harassing” to the company’s workers, or for “frequent use of profane or vulgar language” when dealing with service reps.
AT&T won’t charge early termination fees to anyone it decides to cut off. I don’t want to put ideas into anyone’s head, but if you’re cheesed about usage caps, higher fees or a forced march to U-verse, some strategic cussing might come in handy.
David Lazarus covers consumer issues for the Los Angeles Times. He can be reached at david.lazaruslatimes.com.