A broken piggy bank covered with AT&T's logo.

Enlarge / Poor piggy. (credit: Getty Images | Aurich Lawson)

AT&T has agreed to a $12 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit over its throttling of “unlimited” mobile data plans. As usual, refunds to individual customers amount to a fraction of what the customers paid for the hobbled service.

The paltry nature of expected per-person payments was explained last week by plaintiffs in a filing that asked the US District Court for the Northern District of California to approve the settlement. After administrative costs and attorneys’ fees, typical victims are expected to get $10 or $11 from the new settlement. Many of these same people previously received $12 each from a $60 million settlement between AT&T and the Federal Trade Commission, bringing the typical person’s total payout to $22 or $23. (The FTC/AT&T settlement applied to customers in any state, but the newly announced settlement is only for California residents.)

Customers paid AT&T $30 a month for unlimited data at a time when AT&T automatically throttled “unlimited” plans for the rest of the month once subscribers hit thresholds of either 3GB or 5GB. This throttling was particularly severe because it was enforced 24 hours a day regardless of whether there was any network congestion, and downloads were throttled to speeds as low as 128kbps. AT&T eased up on the throttling in 2014 and 2015 and now throttles only when consumers are connected to congested cell sites.

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