I am a somewhat content AT&T customer. But that’s only because T-Mobile doesn’t exist on the roads between the locations where I work.
Last night, John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile US, announced his company was going to crack down on people who game the system to hide their excessive use of tethering and mobile hotspot data. These customers have a “Simple Choice” plan with unlimited smartphone data and up to 7 GB of high-speed data to share with other devices, after which all access through the mobile hotspot is throttled.
I have done little to hide my disdain for people who overuse mobile data to “stick it to the man,” so I am 100% behind this decision. Mobile data networks, while robust, are a different beast from wireline networks. Copper and fiber media are extremely reliable and, for the most part, have a collision domain that’s very small due to how they can be switched. Radio frequency, as a shared medium, doesn’t have this advantage, while also being vulnerable to myriad sources of interference. (Cable internet, or DOCSIS, also uses RF. It’s less susceptible to interference but is still a shared medium. However, in recent years, cable providers have run fiber directly into neighborhoods in order to serve a smaller number of customers from a single node. But believe me, if you overload that node, all your neighbors are going to have a bad time and complain to the cable company, which may then pursue you for excessive use.) Radio spectrum is a precious resource, which is why licenses for it routinely bring in billions of dollars, and the amount your provider has and how they use it contributes directly to your experience.
As I expected, a lot of people have come out in opposition to Legere’s crackdown citing the FCC’s net neutrality rules. “Data is data,” I hear. This is true, but the FCC rules have always allowed for reasonable network management practices. Putting a stop to people who overload the network qualifies as reasonable network management. I remember one occasion where a computer at one of my work sites started flooding the network and prevented anyone else in the building from accessing anything. What did I do? I unplugged the computer from the network. As the caretaker of the network, I was completely within my right to do that, just as T-Mobile or any other carrier is to unplug you if you make someone else’s experience a bad one. Your rights end where another’s begin.
Then there are some people who say T-Mobile is classifying tethering data differently than smartphone data. This is also true, but the concept of net neutrality deals primarily with providers giving preferential treatment to data based on who or where you’re getting it from, not the method with which you get it. When you meet that 7 GB high-speed tethering data limit, everything you access via tethering is then throttled back to a lower speed regardless of what it is. No matter how you spin it, the net neutrality argument falls flat.
I probably won’t sway any of the haters with this post, but hopefully I have shed some light on why people are making a bigger deal out of this than they should. Also, John, if you read this, please build more towers in rural north central Kentucky and you will have yet another happy customer.