T-Mobile to Pay $48M Over Misleading 'Unlimited' Data Plans

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T-Mobile will pay a fine and offer benefits to customers totaling at least $48 million for failing to adequately explain the restrictions on its so-called "unlimited" data plans, the Federal Communication Commission announced Wednesday.

As part of the settlement, T-Mobile will have to pay a $7.5 million fine, provide $35.5 million in benefits to affected customers, and at least $5 million in services and equipment to US schools. Eligible subscribers will be offered discounts on data and accessories.

The FCC probe found that T-Mobile slows data speeds when T-Mobile and MetroPCS customers on "unlimited" plans exceed a monthly threshold — and some customers are not privy to this.

"Company advertisements and other disclosures may have led unlimited data plan customers to expect that they were buying better and faster service than what they received," a violation of the Commission's 2010 Open Internet transparency rules, the FCC said. The agency said it has received complaints from T-Mobile and MetroPCS customers who felt misled about the lack of transparency.

On Twitter Wednesday, T-Mobile CEO John Legere didn't seem too concerned. "Good settlement with FCC today," he wrote, adding that the company "believes more info is best for customers."

If you're a T-Mobile customer, expect to receive a notice about the benefits you can get as part of this settlement by Dec. 15. That includes 4GB of additional data and 20 percent off accessories. Going forward, T-Mobile will be required to provide more transparency about the restrictions of its "unlimited" plans.

The FCC specifically took issue with T-Mobile's "Top 3 Percent Policy" to "de-prioritize" its heaviest data users during times of network congestion. Consumers complained that the policy rendered their data services unusable for hours each day and substantially limited their access to data.

"The bureau believes that the company failed to adequately inform its 'unlimited' data plan customers that their data would be slowed at times if they used more than 17 GB in a given month," the FCC said. Now, T-Mobile will have to more clearly explain the Top 3 Percent Policy and who may be affected by it.

The punishment could have been worse. In June 2015, the commission proposed a $100 million fine against AT&T for failing to adequately explain to customers of its "unlimited" data plans just how much their service would be throttled after a certain amount of data use.

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