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Computerized Investing > Second Quarter 2012

When “Unlimited” Really Isn’t

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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

Growing up in rural America, where many still consider a verbal agreement and a handshake to be as binding as a written contract, I expect some truth in advertising. In 2010, when Apple released the original iPad, I took the plunge and signed up for an unlimited data contract with AT&T. Having been a long-time AT&T Wireless customer, I had grown numb to their spotty service and less-than-helpful customer service. But I also subscribe to the idiom, “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” As it turns out, AT&T stopped offering unlimited plans only a week or two after I got mine, so I was feeling rather fortunate.

A few months back, there were rumblings in the media that AT&T was starting to “throttle” the speeds of those who were among the top 5% of data users. Throttling effectively slows down the data transfer rate of a device; it is a practice used by cable companies and cell phone providers in an effort to regulate network traffic and ease congestion. The practice isn’t new, as Internet service providers (ISPs) sometimes throttle speeds to reduce bandwidth usage.

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