Verizon won't throttle unlimited LTE users after all

Verizon Wireless won’t go ahead with a widely criticized plan to slow down the connections of heavy data users with unlimited LTE plans.

The carrier had announced in July it would extend a practice it calls network optimization to unlimited LTE subscribers starting in October. Network optimization targets the top 5 percent of data users on the network when a cell site is under the heaviest demand, and slows down those users’ network performance. Verizon had already applied the practice to the top users of its 3G network.

“We’ve greatly valued the ongoing dialogue over the past several months concerning network optimization and we’ve decided not to move forward with the planned implementation of network optimization for 4G LTE customers on unlimited plans,” the carrier said in a statement on Wednesday. “Exceptional network service will always be our priority and we remain committed to working closely with industry stakeholders to manage broadband issues so that American consumers get the world-class mobile service they expect and value.”

U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler attacked the plan in a letter to Verizon, suggesting it was a ploy to get customers to switch from their unlimited plans to ones with a cap on monthly data usage. Verizon no longer sells new unlimited plans but allows subscribers with those plans to keep them.

“I know of no past Commission statement that would treat as ‘reasonable network management’ a decision to slow traffic to a user who has paid, after all, for ‘unlimited’ service,” Wheeler wrote in the late July letter to Verizon Wireless President and CEO Dan Mead.

Digital rights group Public Knowledge also attacked Verizon’s so-called data throttling, as well as practices by AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile USA.

The showdown demonstrated the tension over increasing demand for mobile data, which carriers say puts a strain on their networks. Among other things, that demand has led operators to seek ever more spectrum and apply network management techniques they say are necessary to keep serving all subscribers well. Though LTE makes much more efficient use of the airwaves than 3G does, LTE networks are serving a rapidly growing number of subscribers.

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