TMobile’s Bait and Switch “Unlimited” Data Scam

TMobile Throttles Users

I was disappointed to get a text yesterday from my new mobile provider T-Mobile. The text is above and reads, “Due to the amount of data you have used this billing cycle, your data speed will be slowed for the remainder of the cycle.” When I switched from AT&T to TMobile a few months back (and bought one of TMobile’s fancy new $500+ Android smartphones to replace my iPhone) I did it with the understanding that I would be able to sign up for a plan with “unlimited” data and text.

Unfortunately, what it turns out “unlimited” means at TMobile, is unlimited as long as you stay under their 5GB cap. Use over 5GB, like I have, and you get a nasty text message letting you know that they are going to throttle you and turn your web experience on your phone to a crawl. Already this morning I’ve found that the performance on my phone has significantly deteriorated.

I’m disappointed that TMobile can get away with this blatant false advertising. I have no problem with TMobile putting caps on their data usage. But if they are going to do this then they shouldn’t be allowed to market their service as “unlimited” web and they should prominently disclose that users of their “unlimited” 5 GB capped limit plan are going to be screwed over and throttled when they pass that limit. Such is the nuance of bait and switch though.

TMobile's Bait And Switch Unlimited Data Scam

When I signed up for this plan and shelled out the money for this fancy new $500+ phone I was never told that unlimited really meant a 5GB cap. You can see the screenshot in this article for their plan that I took this morning which clearly states that the plan I have is “unlimited.” I’m sure their ability to screw me over is probably somewhere in the fine print, but that’s no way to advertise or do business. Even here though a search for the term “unlimited” in both their terms of service and their terms of use from their web site turns up no matches.

I understand a lot of people will say quit complaining. Everybody knows “unlimited” doesn’t really mean “unlimited.” But if this is in fact the case, then TMobile should be required to 1. prominently disclose this fact to consumers so as not to mislead them and 2. maybe come up with a new better term to market their “unlimited” data plans, like maybe instead they could say something like 5GB cap limit, which might not sell as many phones and plans for them but would be a more honest way to market their service.

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27 Comments

  1. You should fight against this. As a fellow T-Mobile user on the same plan, this is pure BS, especially if none of their terms and conditions point to the cap.

  2. Serafina says:

    In the “Terms and Conditions”:

    “To provide a good experience for the majority of our customers and minimize capacity issues and degradation in network performance, we may take measures including temporarily reducing data throughput for a subset of customers who use a disproportionate amount of bandwidth. If your total usage exceeds 5GB (amount is subject to change without notice; please check T-Mobile’s T&Cs on http://www.T-Mobile.com for updates) during a billing cycle, we may reduce your data speed for the remainder of that billing cycle. ”

    UGH. At least AT&T didnt pretend to be unlimited.

  3. pk says:

    It’s in the terms and conditions when you sign up. It is total BS, but everyone has to use the network and many users hogging 5GB+ data only ruin it for everyone. But I agree that they should just call it a 5GB plan instead of unlimited. At least the value is better than At&t at 2GB.

  4. @ Serafina — thanks. Didn’t see that.

  5. Thomas Hawk says:

    Serafina, I did not see that either. When I took the plan I asked the clerk if there were any caps on the data usage and was told that there was not. I wonder if there is a way that I can see what my TOS looked like when I signed up for the plan in August vs. what it looks like today.

    Whatever the case, TMobile still should not be able to market this service as “unlimited” and then bury a limit in the fine print. They should be upfront and honest and celebrate their limits with their potential customers rather than resort to bait and switch scumbag marketing tactics.

  6. Owen Byrne says:

    It seems like all the providers do this (not that that makes it suck any less). I think phone companies basically have a Dickensian like attitude towards their product. Don’t like what we give you? You can always do without entirely.

  7. Michael says:

    Verizon used to do this, a limited unlimited plan. They were sued and changed the name to sound similar to their old plan but without unlimited.

  8. Chieze O says:

    Yeah, that definitely sucks. Especially since the sales rep vocalized this misrepresentation of service to you when you specifically asked. That definitely should be openly disclosed.

    As far as I know, Sprint and T-Mobile are the only ones still calling the data plan “unlimited” and as far as I can tell, Sprint doesn’t actually have a limit listed in their Ts&Cs, so it could maybe be still “unlimited”? However, I seem to remember that they said before that they would have some sort of performance cap (especially vis-a-vis 4G – I think they said that 3G has a 5 GB limit, but 4G is truly unlimited, if I remember correctly).

    As mentioned, AT&T and Verizon at least truthfully mention the caps involved in relatively prominent places.

  9. Steve C. says:

    It appears that there is no limit to the amount of data throughput. The limit is on the speed of the throughput so it looks like the attorneys did their homework on this one. That being said they still sucks if bait and switch is their business model.

  10. Rob-L says:

    Technically, it is unlimited since you still get connectivity to the network even after 5GB. But it’s definitely not consumer friendly, it’s tricky and could be considered underhanded. Not a good way to conduct business.

    Oh well, hopefully come Feb. 2011 Verizon will start offering the iPhone.

  11. Mike says:

    Thomas,
    You complained a lot about ATT when you had them, now you’re complaining a lot about Tmobile. I honestly don’t think you’ll be happy with any provider. The thing is, Tmobile isn’t stopping you from sending data, you can still use data, even at no extra expense, they are saying they _may_ slow down your speed. It is unlimited, but possibly slower so others can enjoy the network too. Remember all the iPhone datahogs on ATT? Tmobile is just being responsible to their network. And how did you use 5GB in less than a month? I’m rocking pandora at work over 3g all day and haven’t come close.

  12. Unlimited still means unlimited to me. I’m sure somewhere in the miniscule print it will mention their cap, but if that was the only reason you went to T-Mobile, then I’d fight to get out of that contract. Especially if I was all mac.

  13. Darren says:

    Seriously? Who needs to use over 5 gb of data on their mobile phone. Its because of this, the rest of us cannot get any web service when we need it. I applaud T-Mobile for trying to even the odds a little bit and throttle the bandwidth so that everyone can get on the web when they need to. They aren’t telling you they are shutting it off, they are just slowing you down a little. Is that really that unfair?
    Between this and your semi whiny posts about Microsoft and Apple products, you should maybe think about focusing more on your great photography, which is why I started coming here in the first place.

  14. Johnny Worthington says:

    They are allowed to use unlimited because for the vast majority of users, they will never hit the cap so it’s ‘almost unlimited’… but like here in Australia, you are shaped, not cut off or charged more.

    Just like the iPad isn’t magical, the plan is unlimited.

    Sucks, but kinda lawful

  15. Sacha says:

    I agree with a couple of posters above that most people would never hit 5gb. If every single user were getting close to 5gb, I am sure you’d start seeing the network slowing down..they are throttling you but they aren’t cutting you off from bring down data, nor are they charging you extra..right, so it’s still unlimited data at a slower speed 🙂

  16. Carlos says:

    It also happened to me…but is this accurate?
    This is what I like to push T Mobile and ALL carries to Have to do:

    1) acute use…Details…when this happened..sudden surge? What program, web site, file type, size, background, combination uses, Updates ?…etc.
    2) non-acute use ( chronic or daily use ) data used by day & or website & type, etc
    3) text me my actual use ( like ” you have used Xx Bytes by your Xx day of you billing cycle ” ) then I can adjust my usage if downgrading data speed is important ( unacceptable ) to what I am doing.
    Specific example: I would listen to uninterrupted PAID Slacker while at the gym…now I get cycles of ~4 minutes of music followed by ~2 to 4 minutes of SILENCE !!! ( freaking gym music / ads ! ) Slacker works fine on WI FI.
    Informing me of Downgrading the speed means no choices and very poor public relations.

  17. Vic Cano says:

    I totally agree with almost every negative comment about the misleading unlimited data claim. When I inquired before signing on with tmobile about limits I was told there were none. As I live on a boat the tethered phone is my only option and I paid ATT $200 to get out of their contract with the mistaken belief of tmobile unlimited data. Totally disgusted and pissed and I will contact BBB although I don’t expect to get any where. The throttled speed is so bad I might as well not even try to get on line. Hell, it won’t even let me download a speed test!

  18. Angry says:

    Just to let those know, my speed testis clocking in at 7k max speed, now a one mega byte file takes about five minutes compared to a couple seconds, making the phone almost unusable takes me twenty seconds to load market place, forget about youtube. Plus tmobile now markets a net flix instant streaming app for movies. A coupler movies and you will reach your cap, very pissed hit my cap in a week using jet flix tv streaming

  19. Jess says:

    @ the people sticking up for tmo, I am lucky if I use 1gb a month but I still think it is BS to advertise something that is unlimited when it’s not. you say “it’s still unlimited they only slow it down a little”, the thing is it’s not slowed a little, it’s slowed to the point it’s unusable. A tmo cs rep even said “slowed to the point where a reg web page may take over an hour to load” that’s not a little that’s not even useable!! You’re right that they should put a cap for certain people who use it to the point that the network slows and others can’t use it, but that needs to be disclosed in the plan name. And it’s not unlimited if they slow it to the point the person can’t use it. When it’s that slow most browsers say not responding and stop trying to load.
    By the way I saw that someone in California (in August) has filed a class action against tmo because of this “unlimited” data BS lie

  20. ike says:

    I hit the limit every month. the limit used to be 10Gb when I had my G1 with the 3G internet plan. usually it would be about three weeks before they slowed me down so 1 week without hi-speed was usually no biggie. but I upgrade to an Mytouch4g last month and 5 days into my cycle I get the dreaded text but it reads 5Gb instead of the old 10Gb limit!

  21. Hi I came across your post when I was browsing the web, I was curious that’s why I started reading your post. Thanks for the info.

  22. Nermin says:

    The only reason I went with T-Mobile over ATT is that they had unlimited data. They should certainly change their marketing materials to reflect the 5GB limit. This is false advertising!

  23. Chris says:

    The gripe about the whole unlimited data plan w me is, T -mobile says I have a 4G unlimited data plan on my account. I called them and they tell me they aren’t limiting me on my data by lowering the speed of connection. The truth is yes they are, like I said in the begining I pay for a “4G speed” unlimited data plan. Not one that runs like 2G just because I went over 5GB. They are in fact not giving us what we paid for. And for those wondering, how some of us have been going over, the answer is simple WIFI Hot Spot. The droid phone can power up to 5 devices. Hey Ive used it to connect my PS3 Lol.

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  27. kevin says:

    I received same message from t-mobile to slow data speed for going over 5GB this morning. When I called T-
    mobile they told me they will not stop “unlimited data
    plan” scam even though they know it’s misleading customers and immoral. T-mobile is not willing to stop it’s scam.