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Data Deprioritization and Throttling in USA - All You Need to Know.

Feb 27, 2020

Data Deprioritization and Throttling in USA - All You Need to Know.

When browsing with your mobile device using the best possible speeds is everything in a world where slow is a severe test of the will. Unfortunately, the speeds we desire to browse the internet with, and access apps on our devices, are threatened by deprioritization and throttling. While both simply mean your data speed will be affected, they aren't really the same. 

Ever rising mobile data needs.

With the rise of mobile internet due to better Smartphone and mobile phone technology, data consumption keeps rising across United States. In fact, wireless connections on mobile reached 422 million in United States in 2018. By 2023, internet users on mobile devices are expected to reach 287 million from 2018's 262 million. As mobile data is heavily used in e-commerce purchases and retail, it is expected to influence purchases on mobile devices to reach 338 billion by the end of 2020 up from 156 billion in 2017 within USA alone, even as digital e-commerce using mobile gadgets was about 28.2 percent in 2019.

In 2018, 80.3 percent of mostly adults in America browsed Internet using their Smartphones and other mobile devices, which is expected to rise to 84.8 percent by 2023.

While YouTube remains the most popular video and music application on mobile phones in U.S., Netflix follows closely and Apple Music a close third. As such, it comes not as a surprise that telecoms in U.S.A. have been throttling mobile video streaming - especially streamers in YouTube and Netflix.

From early 2017, the major carriers in U. S. A., AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint started offering diverse mobile data plans they claimed were matchless but came with intrinsic caveats.

For instance, HD streaming through mobile devices was done away with by Verizon, which introduced entirely new plans to replace that offering. This reduced streaming speeds. Sprint also worsened its current offering of unlimited plan with introduction of a better, more expensive data plan.

Carrier fined for deceiving customers.

As early as 2015, carriers had been cautioned against misleading customers on various data plans they were offering. FCC fined AT&T about $100 million in 2015 for claiming to offer unlimited mobile data packages only to provide really low-speed browsing experience once users reached a threshold of above 3GB in 3G networks or 5GB within the 4G network.

The problem was that while the carrier knew data speeds weren't really "unlimited" but throttled once they reached a specific threshold, users were not notified. According to FCC, consumers need to know what they are paying for, when it comes to mobile data and other services.

In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also agreed to a $60 million settlement with AT&T, which was throttling data plans without informing users. The settlement would benefit mostly those who had signed up for unlimited mobile data plans prior to 2011 when AT&T introduced data throttling in its services. With the settlement, FTC indicates that in every unlimited data plan that may be capped at a specific threshold the carrier must disclose it prominently to potential users.

So, what exactly is data throttling and data deprioritization? In both, your mobile data speeds are reduced by your carrier. Even so, they aren’t really the same.

When data deprioritization takes place.

Essentially, the deprioritization of data takes place once a carrier has reduced mobile data temporarily for a certain group of users, especially because of network congestion and heavy usage of data. This is done with aim of freeing up as much space as possible in the network for users who haven’t used a lot of data within the period of that plan (for instance a month).

Deprioritization affects data plan users who may have reached a specific threshold for that data plan. Thresholds aren't uniform and differ across the board. For example, T-Mobile has a plan where deprioritization begins from 50GB; once you have consumed the 50 GB then data speeds will begin to slow down, particularly when the network is congested.

Even so, deprioritization of data doesn't really mean you will experience low browsing speeds since its network crowding that determines it. Large networks such as Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon have been suspected of deprioritizing the data speeds of MVNOs operating within their networks to favor their own subscribers.

When data throttling takes place.

When carriers throttle data, it means the speed usually slows down dramatically to a point where mobile browsing becomes almost impossible to pull through. In most cases, only the basic browsing tasks can be done and no more. Rather than charge their subscribers overage charges, carriers usually turn to throttling their mobile data speeds once they have reached a specified threshold that is clearly indicated.

A number of MVNOs also throttle unlimited data plans for users who could have gone beyond a specific level within that month. In such a case, customers usually use low data speeds until the plan period is over. Throttling is generally what many plans come with today, particularly in data limits (allowances) where once you have reached a threshold, it doesn't mean your browsing experience is stopped or you're charged extra to continue enjoying mobile data; rather, once you reach a given limit the data speeds are just reduced until you top up or the next data billing cycle begins.

Clearly, while the speeds in data throttling and deprioritization are usually reduced, they aren't really the same.

How data deprioritization and throttling differ.

As already indicated, deprioritization of data and throttling have a unique similarity that your mobile data speed will slow down. How they differ is probably what every mobile data user should seek to know and can help them with the choice a better mobile data plan in future, especially those who consume lots of data every month.

Throttling of data and deprioritization differ in relation to the reason for the slowing of data speed and the length of the reduction of speed. In deprioritization of data, the slowing of speed is temporary and only done when a carrier realizes their network is overburdened. Rather than reduce the data speed for every subscriber, deprioritization allows carriers to pinpoint heavy consumers of data within the plan who have reached a specific data cap within that billing period and lower their speeds.

In the process, the network is freed somewhat for other users. Again, deprioritization is generally temporary and after a while your data speeds are expected to revert to their usual self after the network congestion is over.

Conversely, throttling happens whether the network is congested or not and usually takes place automatically after users have completely used up their specified data for that billing cycle. After the throttling is activated, mobile data speeds will be reduced permanently until that billing cycle is over. Essentially, those used to heavy speeds are usually affected by throttling and have to grapple with very worrying low browsing power.

Which one is palatable - data deprioritization or throttling?

Both deprioritization and throttling have an effect on browsing speeds. However, you probably are better knowing that low speeds are coming once you have consumed all your data. This is what throttled plans really mean. Throttling only happens when you have used up your data and your network keeps you browsing at a much lower speed rather than switch you off.

Deprioritization is devastating particularly if it happens when you least expect it or when you need fast browsing speeds such as in crowded places where networks are usually congested. It probably affects many people while in areas where they need a better signal and faster internet.

On other hand, for those who don’t use enormous mobile data deprioritization unlimited plans are much better. You might never reach a given threshold, which allows you to enjoy some of the best "unlimited" internet speeds available.

At the same time, those who don't use a lot of data are better off with limited plans; data speeds are throttled only if you ever reach a specified threshold. Limited plans are also cheaper and since you probably won't ever get closer to the specified limit then throttling won't ever be an issue.

Will we ever be free of Carrier data deprioritization and data throttling?

It is anticipated that neither one of these would occur maybe a decade or two into the future when majority of wireless data transfers will occur on the 5G networks. By its design, the 5G network will have bandwidth greater than current networks by many fold. Therefore, such techniques will no longer be required by service providers to manage wireless traffic to prevent fast-busy tones when calling or slow data due to network overload conditions.

Why are mobile data speeds still low even before deprioritization or throttling?

It is possible that like most people you probably haven't been affected or won't be affected by deprioritization or throttling. They could have happened and you probably don't even notice. Even so, most people still face low mobile data browsing speeds even with 4G and LTE networks available with their plans.

Essentially, this might not have anything to do with a carrier but cellphone signal. Your carrier's cell tower might not even be far but your browsing speeds could still be low, including lots of dropped calls and unsent SMS.

In such a case, there could be something blocking the cellular signal from your carrier, such as natural elements like mountains, distance, forests/trees and vegetation among others, or manmade ones such as tall buildings, tunnels, building materials in your home or office, electronics and electrical equipment in your home, among others.

In such a scenario, you need a cell phone signal booster that will take the quality cellular coverage outside, and boosts it to better levels inside your office or home. As a result, you will be able to enjoy 4G and LTE speeds inside your home.


Data throttling and deprioritization is only illegal today if your carrier has not indicated so with the plan. Considering all carriers do, it probably won't be the reason why your browsing speeds are slow. Check out your cell phone signal and get yourself a cell phone signal booster to amplify the external quality signal inside your residential or business premises whether you're in the remotest of American terrains or in a busy metropolitan, somewhere.

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  • Data deprioritization and throttling are unacceptable. What do we do though when another big app like YouTube comes along and people need to use even more data? You know it’s only a matter of time as developers are always seeking the next killer app. Maybe we’ll see some developments to expand our resources, but what?

    Martin Maxwell on
  • How can they say data is unlimited when your speeds drop from 30 mps to 10kps
    Boost mobile has to be the worst for that.i got faster speeds than that in 1995 on a dial up modem.
    You couldn’t run a computer today on a dial up modem but that’s what i get when i go i would love to see the bandwith meter they use.i bought an extra gig of data once and in less than 2 hrs got a pop up saying data was used up and i wasn’t streaming anything.
    Fraud on boost mobile’s part pure and simple

    Stan on
  • Throttling is one of the most frustrating things on social. It should not be allowed — plain and simple. Apple got into trouble for it.

    Mar C on
  • All you need to know? They both stink! You’d think people would pay for these plans and services and not have to worry about getting what they paid for. Guess I made the mistake of thinking corporate America wouldn’t take advantage of the public.

    Traci Johannsen on
  • With today’s current situation of more people working at home, kids stuck at home (did anyone see that story about the NFL coach or GM who lost contact on a teleconference because their kids were using up all the bandwidth?), etc. I’d have to guess people are feeling the pinch of throttling. I wouldn’t want to think about data depriorization either.

    Mike Sisco on
  • Deprioritization and data throttling are two different things? Hmmmn. I didn’t know that. I thought they were both the same thing (cell phone companies screwing over customers). I have to say I’d like to throttle whoever came up with this idea of sticking it to customers. Those fines are a joke as the cell phone companies make so much money.

    Carmine Giordano on

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