For years, US carriers have been intentionally creating as much confusion as possible towards what an “unlimited data plan” meant. It seems quite simple really but to American carriers, unlimited means anything other than “unlimited”. Most of the time, the carriers are simply trying to get customers off their unlimited data plans and onto data capped plans that are more expensive monthly. They do this by either throttling the unlimited data plan connections to unusable levels or by restricting what unlimited data plan customers can do with their data.

Verizon is one of the best at these tricks. When the FCC got so many complaints about just unlimited data customers being throttled by Verizon, they wrote a letter to Verizon wanting answers. Verizon tried claiming that they didn’t want people “abusing” their network even though they were throttling unlimited data customers who were actually using little data per month.


Both AT&T and Verizon have tried every trick in the book to push customers off their unlimited data plans. Want a subsidized handset? You’re off unlimited. Want Internet video apps to actually work? You’re off unlimited. Interested in moving? Want to use AT&T’s insurance plans? You’re off unlimited. To be fair, both carriers have since slightly eased off a number of their absurd restrictions.

The FCC has even sued AT&T for “deceptive and unfair data throttling” after years of AT&T throttled customers with “unlimited” data plans even after promising them no such throttling. I was one of those throttled customers. I was stupid enough to believe that by paying my monthly bills, I could use 2.5 GB’s in one month.

Now, we see that others around the world aren’t fairing that much better with their unlimited data plans since their plans are actually highly limited. As one paper in Dublin notes, they receive stories frequently about customers on unlimited data plans being charged thousands after the customer used just several GB’s in a month (roaming charges are not a factor here, that is important).

For example. a German woman wrote to them about a trip she made to France. While there, she had the audacity to download a single episode of Lost on her phone. When she got back to Germany, her phone bill was $50,000 (€46,000).

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word as “not limited or restricted in terms of number, quantity, or extent”. So that’s pretty clear, right? Unless you’re dealing with a mobile phone operator, in which case the word means nothing of the kind. In recent years, most Irish mobile phone providers have been advertising “unlimited” plans. – Irish Times

In Europe, some providers give “unlimited data” customers the ability to use 5GB a month before charging them additional amounts. Others offer customers with unlimited data packages the ability to use a bit more per month. The carriers do this under the notion of a “fair usage policy.” The carriers claim that customers are given a “maximum acceptable” level of usage and anything over that means you are hit with new charges. To make things even more confusing, every wireless operator has a different definition of “unlimited”.

The fair usage argument has been tried here in the US and fails every time.