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Throttling That Doesn’t Suck

Years ago, some cell carriers introduced “soft caps” for data. Subscribers that used their allotted data could continue accessing the internet at a vastly reduced speed of 128kbps.

In some cases, this was a nice perk. A subscriber to Mint Mobile’s old 3GB plan who had run out of data might still be able to load an important email or boarding pass. In other cases, the reduced-speed data was part of a marketing gimmick. A carrier might offer a soft-capped 15GB plan and market it as an unlimited plan.

At 128kbps, things don’t only load slowly. In many cases, things stop working. Video may not stream. Websites may time out.

Softer Caps

Recently, a handful of carriers started offering soft-capped plans with less aggressive throttles. There are at least five carriers throttling download speeds to 1Mbps or higher:1

  • Xfinity – 1.5Mbps
  • Cox – 1.5Mbps
  • AT&T Prepaid – 1.5Mbps
  • Spectrum – 1Mbps
  • US Mobile – 1Mbps

Props to these carriers. At 1Mbps, you can stream music, browse the internet, and use most apps normally. High-quality video streaming might not work, but almost everything else will.

With the less aggressive throttling, labeling plans unlimited is perhaps a generous framing, but it’s no longer outright bullshit.

Throttled But Prioritized

Ahmed Khattak, CEO of US Mobile, shared the following in a Reddit post (emphasis mine):

We’re also setting the throttle speed of all our Unlimited Plans to 1Mbps after the high-speed data allotment is used. Unless you’re streaming 4K Video, I’m unsure if you will notice any difference if you are throttled. You will also remain on priority data even with throttled speeds.

Network congestion is a common source of the sub-1Mbps speeds that cause lousy user experiences. With priority data, throttled users have some protection from congestion troubles.

I hope we see high-priority data post-throttling become a more common feature.2 Subscribers don’t use a ton of data after getting throttled. MVNOs that pay a per-gig premium for priority data may be able to offer the feature without meaningfully changing their cost structures.


  1. These throttles usually apply to only some of the carriers’ offerings. Upload speeds may be different. Some carriers throttle asymmetrically, with upload speeds throttled to half of the download speed.
  2. Some of the other carriers listed may continue to offer high-priority data after a user is throttled. US Mobile is the only carrier I’ve noticed explicitly mentioning the feature.

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