In a decision that will inevitably lead to similar cases in the future, Associated Press reported a judge in California awarded an iPhone user $850 in a small claims case filed against AT&T that found the carrier guilty of throttling data speeds on the iPhone 4’s unlimited data plan. According to the iPhone user, who was grandfathered in to the unlimited data plan, his data was throttled after reaching between 1.5GB to 2GB of data in any given billing cycle:

Pro-tem Judge Russell Nadel found in favor of Matt Spaccarelli in Ventura Superior Court in Simi Valley. Spaccarelli filed a small claims case against AT&T last month, arguing the communications giant unfairly slows speeds on his iPhone 4’s unlimited data plan…Nadel’s ruling could pave the way for others to follow suit. AT&T has some 17 million customers with “unlimited data” plans that can be subject to throttling, representing just under half of the company’s smartphone users.

When asked for comment, AT&T said:

“This is a small claims matter.  We are evaluating next steps, including appeal.  But at the end of the day, our contract governs our relationship with our customers.”

There is a possibility AT&T will appeal the judge’s decision. AP said AT&T Area Sales Manager Peter Hartlove “argued in court that his employer has the right to modify or cancel customers’ contracts if their data usage adversely affects the network.”

As of October 2011, AT&T officially began throttling data speeds of the top 5 percent of heavy data users and told us last month “throttling only applies to top users with grandfathered unlimited plans.” At that time, an AT&T spokesperson provided us with the following explanation:

For AT&T, throttling only applies to top users with grandfathered unlimited plans. As we said last summer, smartphone customers with unlimited data plans may experience reduced speeds once their usage puts them in the top five percent of our heaviest data users. We will continue to send reminders and communicate with these customers ahead of time as their usage approaches the top five percent.

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