October may be the month for goblins and ghouls, but there’s now one thing that will no longer haunt Verizon Wireless subscribers with unlimited plans: the prospect of data throttling.
The wireless operator’s plan—which would have to tamped down 4G LTE speeds for the heaviest unlimited data users—was set to launch today. But the company decided to pull the plug on the policy in a late-breaking decision Wednesday afternoon (emphasis added):
We’ve greatly valued the ongoing dialogue over the past several months concerning network optimization and we’ve decided not to move forward with the planned implementation of network optimization for 4G LTE customers on unlimited plans. Exceptional network service will always be our priority and we remain committed to working closely with industry stakeholders to manage broadband issues so that American consumers get the world-class mobile service they expect and value.
The “ongoing dialogue” referenced here goes back to letters between Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler and Verizon. Wheeler questioned Verizon’s motivation, essentially casting the tactic as a money-grubbing way of milking more cash out of subscribers. (Utterly shocking, I know.)
Verizon’s defense: All the other major U.S. carriers are doing it too. In this implementation, the so-called “network optimization” would only be invoked when there’s network congestion—i.e., Verizon’s network is overly taxed with a lot of data traffic. However, the company claimed, this is not data throttling. There’s a difference, as its online FAQ pointedly emphasizes.
Is this the same as throttling?
No, this is not throttling.
How is this different than throttling?
The difference between our Network Optimization practices and throttling is network intelligence. With throttling, your wireless data speed is reduced for your entire cycle, 100% of the time, no matter where you are. Network Optimization is based on the theory that all customers should have the best network possible, and if you’re not causing congestion for others, even if you are using a high amount of data, your connection speed should be as good as possible. So, if you’re in the top 5% of data users, your speed is reduced only when you are connected to a cell site experiencing high demand. Once you are no longer connected to a site experiencing high demand, your speed will return to normal. This could mean a matter of seconds or hours, depending on your location and time of day.
To be honest, that pretty much looks like data throttling to us. But whatever you call it, Verizon does have a point: It’s not the only carrier that has such a policy. And it’s nothing new. Verizon’s own 3G subscribers have long been subject to it, and that doesn’t appear to be changing now.
However, if you’re a Verizon Wireless account holder with a 4G LTE unlimited plan, at least now you can breathe a sigh of relief. Now we’ll see if Wheeler continues his crusade to preserve the meaning of “unlimited data” by taking aim at the other major wireless networks.
Verizon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Feature photo by Jim Accordino