T-Mobile and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced an agreement this week by which the wireless carrier will more transparently communicate accurate information about customers' wireless data speeds. This will be particularly helpful for those customers who hit their monthly data limits and are subjected to slower speeds, the carrier says.
"As part of the agreement, T-Mobile will send text messages to customers that will enable them to more easily get accurate speed information, place direct links to accurate speed tests on customer handsets, and revamp its website disclosures to provide clearer information about the speeds customers actually experience," the agreement notes.
At issue here is T-Mobile's somewhat unique approach to data plans, whereby many plans have a monthly allotment of full-speed data but then reduce data speeds—somewhat dramatically, to 64 Kbps or 128 Kbps, depending on the plan—for the remainder of the billing cycle. T-Mobile notes that these reductions are specified in their customer agreements and that, unlike on other carriers, customers are not charged extra for exceeding their monthly data limits.
But T-Mobile was also apparently gaming the system by silently exempting bandwidth speed test apps and sites from the bandwidth reductions. So when customers would test to see whether their bandwidth had been reduced, they would often see full-speed results. This practice is deceptive, the FCC notes.
T-Mobile has been pursuing an "un-carrier" strategy for the past few years, having eliminated wireless contracts, offered free Wi-Fi-based phone calls and text messages and free based stations for the home, and other incentives like free international data and texting to its customers. But these innovative offerings have been offset somewhat by failed mergers with both AT&T Wireless and Sprint, and by revelations this year that the firm behaved no better than its bigger competitors by secretly "cramming" spurious and unauthorized charges into customer cell phone bills.
The FCC has been probing the practice of reducing customer bandwidth at various wireless carriers, so T-Mobile is in good company. The FCC and Verizon Wireless went head-to-head over the summer, and AT&T Wireless found itself defending unlimited data plans that are in fact quite limited in October.