SIMI VALLEY, Calif. – When AT&T started slowing down the data service for his iPhone, Matt Spaccarelli, an unemployed truck driver and student, took the countrys largest telecommunications company to small-claims court. And won.
His award: $850.
Pro-tem Judge Russell Nadel found in favor of Spaccarelli in Ventura Superior Court in Simi Valley on Friday, saying it wasnt fair for the company to purposely slow his iPhone, when it had sold him an unlimited data plan.
Spaccarelli could have many imitators. AT&T has 17 million customers with unlimited data plans who can be subject to throttling. Thats nearly half of its smartphone users. AT&T forbids them from consolidating their claims into a class action or taking them to a jury trial. That leaves small-claims actions and arbitration.
Late last year, AT&T started slowing data service for the top 5 percent of its smartphone subscribers with unlimited plans. It had warned that it would start doing so, but many subscribers have been surprised by how little data use it takes for throttling to kick in – often less than AT&T provides to those on limited or tiered plans.
Spaccarelli said his phone is being throttled after hes used 1.5 gigabytes to 2 gigabytes of data within a new billing cycle. Meanwhile, AT&T provides 3 gigabytes of data to subscribers on a tiered plan that costs the same – $30 a month.
When slowed down, the phone can still be used for calls and text messaging, but Web browsing is painfully slow, and video streaming doesnt work at all.
AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said the company is evaluating whether to appeal.
At the end of the day, our contract governs our relationship with our customers, he said.