So you're sitting back, enjoying your the new Windows phone you received over the holidays. Downloading apps, emails, and sending text messages to your hearts content on that "unlimited" data plan? Did you know that there may be a restriction on your "unlimited" plan? Restrictions, if violated, could result in your service being terminated?
We checked the fine print with the four major carriers in the U.S. market and found some interesting language as it relates to unlimited packages. Language that many may not be aware of and we felt it important to pass it on. A public service announcement of sorts. Ease on past the break to see what limits are in place.
The good news is that in reading the extremely wordy terms of services/customer agreements from the four carriers (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile) as long as you stay "on-network" your unlimited data, voice and messaging plans are really unlimited. The bad news is that if you go off network (e.g. roaming) you're unlimited packages aren't necessarily unlimited.
Here's how the fine print breaks down by carrier.
AT&T gets the award for the most wordiest clause. According to the Terms of Service, when you move off-network, your usage allowance is "equal to the lessor of 750 minutes or 40? of the Anytime Minutes, the lesser of 24mb or 20% of the data included in your plan or the lesser of 3,000 messages or 50% of the messages included in your plan." If you exceeds these limits during any two consecutive months, AT&T may terminate your service, deny you access to off-network coverage or impose off-network fees. AT&T does indicate they'll notify you before any action is taken.
Sprint has a similar policy to AT&T's policy but includes on-network data as well as off-network data. Sprint "reserves the right to limit throughput speeds or amount of data transferred, and to deny, terminate, modify, disconnect, or suspend service if usage either exceeds (a)5gb a month in total (unless specified otherwise) or (b) 300mb a month while off-network roaming.
Update: In re-reading the fine print the limitations noted above only apply to mobile broadband cards, USB modems, embedded modems and phones-as-modem use. We did find language that indicates Sprint reviews heavy data usage (other than broadband cards, usb modems, etc.) on a case by case basis, not setting limits. The Terms of Service reads, "We reserve the right to limit, suspend or constrain any heavy, continuous data usage that adversely impacts our network performance or hinders access to our network.". Tip of the hat goes to Stephen for bringing this to our attention.
T-Mobile's data Terms and Conditions, puts the limit at 10gb during a billing cycle before restrictions may kick in. The restrictions include limiting, suspending or terminating your data access. T-Mobile doesn't distinguish off/on network and T-Mobile reserves the right to change the limit.
I also found language in the Terms of Service that reads, "We may limit or terminate your Service without prior notice if more than 50% of your voice and/or data usage is off-net for any three billing cycles within any 12 month period." The effective date on this stipulation is June 28, 2008 and the 10gb limit appears to be the more current policy (no date present on that policy).
I couldn't find any specific language from Verizon on restricting unlimited packages but in the Customer Agreement, Verizon notes, "There may be higher rates and extra charges (including charges for long distance, tolls or calls that don't connect) for roaming calls, depending on your Plan." Verizon also notes in their Call Plan Information for their unlimited data plan that, "Verizon Wireless' requirements for such usage, which may be changed from time to time." I wouldn't be surprised if more specific language is located somewhere deep within Verizon's website.
Granted it will be difficult for some to exceed the limitations in these terms over consecutive months but I also never thought my son could generate 2,000 text messages in a two week period. Carriers are battling network strains caused by the increased data usages and they may start enforcing these terms with a little more diligence or lower the thresholds. While it may be painful, stumbling across these conditions makes it all the more important to read the fine print.