Aalok Mehta

T-Mobile Disguising Throttling with New Speed Test Data Cap Exemptions

[Commentary] On the heels of T-Mobile’s controversial announcement that it will be exempting many popular music streaming services from its data caps, the “Uncarrier” has also confirmed that it will be exempting the Ookla speed test and other online speed testing applications as well.

Unlike AT&T and Verizon, T-Mobile does not charge subscribers overage fees when they exceed their data caps. Rather, T-Mobile throttles network speeds for customers who go past a predetermined data allotment. Depending on the type of plan, customers that exceed the “Data Speed Reduction Threshold” can receive maximum speeds ranging from 50 to 128 Kbps -- speeds that don’t even meet the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 1999 definition of broadband.

By exempting speed tests from the throttling, T-Mobile is effectively preventing consumers from learning exactly how slow their throttled connections are. Under the new policy, T-Mobile customers who exceed their data caps will not be able to gauge the actual speeds available to them for the vast majority of their daily usage.

T-Mobile has justified the move on the basis that it more closely adheres to the true intent of online speed tests, but this doesn't make sense, because whenever customers who have hit their caps use the Ookla application, they are trying to measure their true network speed -- not the speed no longer available to them. The inability for customers to estimate the actual speeds they are receiving serves mostly to disguise the carrier’s throttling policies.

The decision also harms customers, who will lose the ability to plan their mobile broadband activities around the actual speeds that they are receiving.