Verizon’s announcement that it is going to throttle the top 5% of its 3G wireless customers serves as a fantastic illustration of the difference between reasonable network management and using network congestion as a pretext to gouge your customers.
The basic details of Verizon’s new policy appear to be well within the scope of reasonable network management. When a specific cell site is congested at a specific time, Verizon plans to throttle the connection of its heaviest users until the congestion clears or the customer moves to a less congested site. Verizon plans to classify its top 5% of data users as its heaviest users.
On its face, this plan seems reasonable. It may not be the best policy Verizon could implement, but it certainly falls within the scope of reasonable. Unfortunately, the details of the plan make it clear that this policy has little to do with network congestion and everything to do with using congestion as a pretext to push consumers into higher priced, lower featured plans.
The first hint is that this policy only applies to customers with unlimited 3G data – a service that Verizon no longer offers new customers. Customers living with data caps and exposed to punitive overage fees are exempted from throttling even if they are among the top 5% of users. It is hard to think of a good reason to exempt customers under the tiered structure from throttling. After all, heavy users are heavy users. Congestion has the potential to impact everyone, and throttling prevents all types of customers from fully using whatever connection they pay for.
More telling is the impact of the throttling. If you are a heavy user using a busy cell site, you are throttled at that site. At that point, you are tagged as a heavy user eligible for throttling for the rest of the billing cycle and the entire next billing cycle. Even if your heavy use was a one time anomaly, you could be exposed to throttling for as long as two months.
Most telling is Verizon’s advice if you find yourself stuck in a two month throttle limbo. Verizon’s suggestion? Abandon your unlimited plan and pay them more for less. For the same $30 you could move from an unlimited plan to one capped at 2 GB per month. You could almost double your monthly bill to $50 and enjoy 5 GB per month. Or could could almost triple your monthly bill to $80 and enjoy 10 GB per month instead of unlimited data.
Verizon’s final suggestion is to switch to their 4G network, where the same $30 that you currently pay for an unlimited plan buys you only 2 GB per month. Of course, on Verizon’s 4G network you can hit that monthly limit in 22 minutes, exposing you to punitive overage fees for the remaining 29 days.
The details of this plan make it clear that it has almost nothing to do with addressing network congestion and everything to do with killing the unlimited plans that consumers love but carriers hate. Verizon is using network congestion as a pretext to gouge customers by forcing them into restrictive monthly plans. This is precisely the type of behavior that an alert FCC would investigate, requiring Verizon to explain why throttling a user six weeks after they connected to a congested cell site is “reasonable” network management.