I bet you can’t guess who was one of them can you? Yeah, it was me. It appears I have been a very naughty boy and have been caught by the AT&T Tethering Police. I have heard that some accounts after 5gb gets throttled, and I got some clarification on that today, but why in the Hell am I getting the attached email? Not only did I get an email from AT&T, I also got a text message from them. You think they are serious or what?

I knew I had been using a tremendous amount more data and I knew why. A few months ago I sold my HTC HD2 and got an iPhone 4. As it turns out I actually like my iPhone 4 quite a bit and I especially like the Netflix App as well. One of the main reasons I got the iPhone was that I knew my travel schedule for work was about to change and that I would have some serious travel coming my way. I liked the apps and I liked the idea of having a more mature OS that jumping right on board with WP7. In any case, my average HD2 data which I have the unlimited plan and always have, averaged about 1gb. Tons of emails and Twitter, but there was no Netflix for Windows Mobile and the Facebook app sucked. I wanted to stay connected better with my family and use the Netflix app to watch movies while I was away.

To say my data usage went up would be a understatement. Since owning the iPhone 4 my data has shot up to 5-7gb in the last three months. I have watched countless movies, streamed Pandora while driving, and used the Facebook app non stop. Games, yeah I got a ton of those and regularly beat my wife at Words with Friends. I have an unlimited plan right? Who cares. AT&T cares that’s who. So they sent me the following letter this morning:

Oddly enough I actually read this letter for some reason. Most of the time I delete AT&T emails as garbage which most of the time they are. Not this time and I really freaked when I got towards the end of the letter. It said:

“If we don’t hear from you, we’ll plan to automatically enroll you into DataPro 4GB after March 27, 2011. The new plan – whether you sign up on your own or we automatically enroll you – will replace your current smartphone data plan, including if you are on an unlimited data plan.”

My ache’n ass they are taking away my unlimited plan! I fought through Windows Mobile devices and all the driver issues, apps not working, hardware that was horribly underpowered for such a clunky OS for AT&T to take away my data now that I had a device that was capable of chewing up some data! Now I will also admit, there were several occasions that I was really curious as to how much data I could consume. Remember it is unlimited and I wanted to see how much it took to really jump up in bandwidth consumption. I actually know people that use between 10-12gb consecutively each month and use it streaming even more apps that I did. Hulu, slacker, MobiTV, even the police scanner app.

So not having any experience with this sort of thing or even having read anyone who had, I called them up.

I was very surprised when I got through almost instantly. Damn, you folks don’t answer your regular customer service lines this fast, you must be serious about recouping your losses. So I get connected right away to a young lady that definitely just started at this position. Clearly she had some training but lacked a lot of confidence in the hard line of questioning she started putting me through. I wasn’t worried but I knew better than to run my mouth and get frustrated. I was actually amused at the questioning and let he go through her routine.

Do you tether? No

Do you use your iPhone to connect your iPad? No

Do you use your iPhone to connect your laptop? No

Do you have unauthorized Apple software on your phone? (None of your damn business lady!) No (cough).

Do you use your iPhone to HDMI Movies to a TV? No

I went on to explain to her that I have been traveling quite a bit lately and that I have been really power using my new iPhones apps and enjoying them in my UNLIMITED plan. She said she understood but then reworded all the questions I listed above in another sentence and we went through it again. I explained to her that I indeed did understand what Tethering was. I was a little irritated now so I started pressing her with questions.

First I asked her how I was selected for this wonderful inquisition? She said that it had been detected that I was tethering. Okay, well how in the hell did you determine that? She replied that AT&T has a brand new department that is tracking 68,000 subscribers that AT&T thinks is tethering illegally. This special new department as she called it were tracking “Network usage types” and could actually see how the data was used. Really I said? She said yes and that this was department that was unreachable by phone and that she did know any more than that. Whoa, you are telling me that AT&T is looking at what kind of data I am using? She said she did not know how they did it. I asked her if she thought it might help her questioning if she in fact knew what she was doing. She said that she had gone through the training and that her department was the one that actually called customers. Wow. She then took ample time to cover every damn plan they offered and threatened that if my data stayed that high they would put me on the tethering plan.

I thought I would share with you the discussion I had with the Mobility Digest team:

Douglas Smith: FWD Email: BUSTED!

Ramon: Looks like att gave you the istaff. Look up istaff on urban dictionary.

Danny: at least they didn’t “automatically” upgrade your plan like they did with the iPhones back in the day

James: Damn those Bastards!

Confidential: They can’t track tethering on your pda. Only if you put your sim into a iPad or notebook or air card. That’s what they are talking about.

Douglas Smith: Does anyone know if they can physically and legally look at my data and see if I am tethering?

Douglas Smith: $%&# AT&T! (Used with permission by Ramon)

Jim: Thought they could look at the volume being transferred (as in bits per sec) to discern between a smartphone and a laptop for example, without actually looking at you data. Don’t know though with faster phone processors now if that’s viable anymore. If you didn’t actually swap out your SIM its an interesting question.

Confidential: They can tell because of the IMEI.

Chris: The imei comes from the phone, that’s all they can see. I have always used that much data on my iPhone. I’ll gladly fight that if I get the notice.

Ramon: Assuming everyone knows data packets are all signed with a header of sorts…pretty much saying what device its coming from. And they reserve the rights to trace your shit every time you sign that line for 2 more years of iStaffing.

Douglas Smith: So can they tell if you HDMI out say netflix? The packets should be all signed from the iPhone….

Douglas Smith: This sucks @$$. Okay, this is war, I am going to plug my iShit up and stream every damn movie I can come across…. They can forget about me ever turning on WiFi again….

David: HDMI out is different. The phone is still the device receiving the data in that case. That’s not tethering. If Netflix were playing on our laptop that would be a violation. It’s more a question as to where the data gets received…

Confidential: I still think it’s BS. Since June I’ve used over 90GB of data, over 12 this month alone. The MAJORITY of that data is iPhone downloads, not tethering. I’ve been tethering here in alabama, but I still don’t think that mywi will transmit any device headers past the iPhone data connection. If they can prove what devices I’m using, I’ll agree that I’ve broken their contract.

Confidential: Even on air cards and other portable dives that have any sim card has a IMEI. They can’t tell if you are tethering with a smartphone. They only way they could possibly tell is by the APN settings on the phone. For example with ATT wap.Cingular is the default APN for all data transfer. Isp.cingular is the one used for tethering. For years I have been able to tether with wap.cingular as the APN.

What I believe AT&T is doing is doing searches for people with a certain IMEI and seeing what data plans they have on there. Other than that I don’t know of any other way they can track that.

Confidential: So you got a message from AT&T just because of using the internet on your phone? You weren’t taking your SIM and putting it into your ipad or anything like that?

Douglas Smith: No I have never taken my sim card out ever. I had an hd2 before this and dis not have the apps or the travel to use that much data. Now with the iPhone, netflix, and tons of travel, it went over 7 gb.

Confidential: They have no reason to change your data plan given what info they provided with us today. This is only for people who are swapping Sims in and out of phones to other devices.

That’s where we stopped discussing this issue. I thought I would pass this along to you to help in the event you need to tether in an emergency or to avoid getting questioned by the AT&T Tethering Police. I will keep you posted on any more contact by AT&T or we learn more about what AT&T is doing. What AT&T should be doing is using these efforts to improve their network, that would be a welcomed change.

24 COMMENTS

  1. I would ask them to prove that you are tethering. I don’t think they would be able to. I tether my android device from time to time, but nothing major. Usually while I am no vacation. I really think they are just looking at data usage. They see tons of data usage, they assume your tethering. The tethering police then call you to scare you straight.

  2. They can’t as far as I can tell. But the whole lying about it is very unethical. I never changed sim cards and used it in my laptop.

  3. She said is was over 10gb but I keep a check and I saw on my AT&T iPhone app is was 7gb…

  4. they’re full of shit. i think what they’re doing is tracking the headers and what browser you’re using to send data back and forth. one way to get around this (i read this at tuaw for an article on teh same thing) is to use a vpn so they can’t see the data you’re transferring. i think you’re right though doug that they’re just tagging people with ridiculously high data usage. my brother and i are ready to start war with them if they come anywhere near us with these allegations and this bullshit. if they can throttle our data, who cares what we’re using it for

  5. I agree, even though she did a horrible job at “bullying” me into giving a confession, I did not appreciate it non the less. I have always thought that AT&T wording with Unlimited Data was fraudulent. It is in fact only for times when you cannot connect to their 23000 hot spots that I can never find. I hate Starbucks coffee and don’t drink it. Also, I think AT&T should be VERY careful on how they are approaching people on this subject. Lying about what they know to get you to admit to something is very delicate ground I would think. I am not a lawyer, nor do I stay at Holiday Inn Expresses, but this is crap.

    I also was trying to go over my data and I also figure it came from constant streaming of pandora. I have traveled a TON and also use it at the office with a BT Speaker. Now, is it illegal to use a BT speaker to listen to pandora as it is illegal to stream netflix and hdmi it to a tv? WTF???

  6. Probably some deep inspection on the packets coming and going from your phone would reveal if you’ve been using a computer.
    Remember that every browser has it’s own User Agent ID, that would be different for a mobile browsers.

  7. Where are all those liberal lawyers hiding out, if anything screamed class action lawsuit this and the way they capped upload speeds on their new 4G phones should be cause enough!

  8. I find this amusing b/c I’m using my tilt2 (reflashed rom w/ tethering unlocked) to tether my lappy (on my way to a gun show! damn i love america) to view this article.
    I am no where near your data usage bracket but I know people who do fit into your catagory with out the tether feature on their plan that have never been contacted by the att data police. (Non of them are using iPhones either. )

  9. I just got a similar text. The other day some guy stole my wallet and ran off down the street. I threw my phone at him and hit him in the head which allowed me to get my wallet back.

    Then when I got home I had a text that said I owed at&t money for using my phone as a “theft deterrent device.” They signed me up for the “Vigilante 600 – 600 yards of distance on any thrown phone every month.”

  10. @Skyau LMAO!

    I’m a huge data consumer, but didn’t get a notice. I RARELY tether either. The simple fact that I pay for an UNLIMITED plan should be enough. Since the iPhone 4 launched, I’ve used over 90GB of data on 3G. Do I plan on slowing down? Nope. But as of today I signed up for the post-paid iPad 2GB plan for my iPad 2 just in case ;)

  11. Interesting. I don’t use a lot of data nor have I jailbroken but I have thought about. Besides I don’t think I could reach my 2 gig limit if I wanted, ATTs network in Houston has gone to crap lately and showing no sign of improvement.

  12. I am switching to Sprint here in Florida as soon as I have the money to get a phone and pay for the account. I’ve been with AT&T since 1998. I don’t have a laptop, never tether and have had a Tilt phone for the last 2 years. I was GOING to get a new phone – one of the ones they advertise does everything – watch movies, stream music, you know, the phones they push on us – and now they want to limit my use. I think they’ll be losing a lot of customers.

  13. I called that number bc I got the email and text message and told them I don’t tether(lie) and that I want a copy of the data that they use to tell me that I am tethering. he put me on hold for 10 min and came back and said they can’t print that kinda stuff and mail it. and then all of a sudden he told me he doesn’t see anything that says I tether. so I asked him that if that’s what he said and he tried to make it say that’s what he was putting down on my account. so they have no idea if ur tethering or not

  14. I personally believe this whole issue of tethering is going to go the same way “jailbreaking” the iPhone did–when the U.S. Gov’t. ruled that jailbreaking was “NOT” illegal.

    What people do with their data AFTER it reaches their device is their business.

    Wireless providers shouldn’t be able to dictate what you do with your data AFTER it arrives at your device anymore than your broadband ISP can AFTER the data reaches your router at home.

    Ever wonder why the cable providers don’t come after you for having multiple devices connected to the cablemodem connection you already pay for? (which happens to include by the way, my WiFi enabled phone?)

    I suppose next up will be a “bluetooth tethering fee”. If I choose to talk via the headset or use a “tethered” bluetooth headset, who cares?

    It’s the SAME data going over the SAME connection that I’ve ALREADY PAID FOR–regardless of how legally and technically valid my contract may be.

    AT&T is getting close to treading on “constitutional grounds” and no contract, signed or otherwise will trump constitutional and privacy laws.

    Contracts get thrown out of court all the time for one reason or another–this tethering fee BS is no exception to being thrown out if challenged and beaten in court.

    There is a reason contracts (mine included) say, “if any portion of this contract is not enforceable in court, all other provisions remain in effect”. Let’s face it. If you can get away with it, you’ll do it. AT&T is no different. Until they get called out, they are going to push the envelope.

    Depending on how this plays out, Sprint could be in for a HUGE and immediate gain in market share.

    If I were Sprint, I’d be getting in position to capitalize by providing a solution for the P.O.’d customers wanting to leave another carrier due to this stupid tethering fee and other guerilla warfare tactics used by companies like this.

    Sprint are you listening?

    Just imagine, no marketing budget required. Just offer what customers want and they will come.

    I’m sure if Sprint provided us a solution and took care of early termination fees for those of us wanting to jump ship, Sprint would MORE than make that up by having us for 2 years as a new client.

    Besides, the minute they can start telling me what I can and cannot do in the privacy of my own bedroom…..”Houston, we have a problem” :)

  15. I have read all of these comments here on the site, and I think that this is very interesting of what i hear what has happened, I thought that I was alone! I have been a T-mobile customer for about 2 years now, and about a year ago I switched to the new dtc hd2 phone, and i also signed up for the UNLIMITED DATA PLAN AS WELL. Well for about atleast 6 months or more i have used well over 5 GB each month in a row, about 2 months ago, I actually used 19.5 GB of data. All the sudden I get this text message from T-mobile, stating that I have exceeded my data limit usage, and that my speed will be throttled down for the remainder of the month. Well i just didn’t believe it up until the next day my freaking internet was barelly moving, so frustrating. Now i did tether to my laptop, but it still does not change the fact that my plan states unlimited data, even when i log in to my account at my.tmobile.com. I think that this is going to end up with a legal battle hopefully soon, that is at least false advertising.

  16. All, I also had one of the threatening texts from Att. I called them and one of the “highly trained” reps asked me all the same questions as listed above. I was able to pry out of them the way Att tracks if the phone is tethering or not. It has. Nothing to do with the amount of data used that month. When you tether with a popular tethering app like MyWi it uses the same APN settings as the iPhone natively uses for tethering. Thus it is very visible to Att if you use just one 1KB of data tethering. Even if you use 30GB of data without tethering. I have written intellliborn(makers of MyWi) and asked them to change the APN used in their app so that Att can not track tethering. I encourage everyone to do the same. Also I like the one guys idea of not turning on wifi for anything anymore and using the iPhone none stop day and night(only do this if you have an unlimited data plan.

  17. So I got done talking to customer service today. They told me, “tethering data to anything electronic” is considered “tethering”. I explained that I use a small pair of Sony speakers, they fit in the palm of my hand, and listen to Pandora with them . They told me that was Tethering and there “system” showed I was tethering….

    She said, “speakers are considered as electronic devices and fall under tethering.

    I was at 2gigs for October and they sent the letter…. I explained I do all my work on my phone… A lot of e-mails, I use my GPS a lot and my son watches a lot of Netflix… She asked if I connect the phone to the TV.. I told her no, and she said that would be tethering if I did…..

    I am truly amazed at this. Stunned is the word…. Headphones, she said, were not tethering by the way…???

  18. What made me most made was my device was jailbroken and i trie to purchase a unlimited plan and it said that it cannot do it an offered tethered plans…. I have no terhering software….. No illegal software….. And im currently on 200mb i restored my iphone 3gs and im going to see if it will let me in the morning it better because i did nothing i fricken 13 i dont even know how to tether i just learned what it was like 3 hours ago

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