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Verizon throttled fire department’s “unlimited” data during wildfire (arstechnica.com)
567 points by jamroom 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 339 comments

This seems like the classic case of people relying on intuition instead of the documented SLA. Verizon's plan should be assumed to be a 200Kbps plan that can occasionally burst to 50Mbps. But someone tried it out, and mentally built the model that it was an always-50Mbps plan. Then they were proven wrong during a crisis.

I very much agree with other posters that "unlimited" is a very misleading term. If the service runs at 200Kbps, then that's something like 65GB/month, which is not an infinite amount of data. If Verizon sold two "unlimited" plans, one that could be throttled and one that couldn't be, it would be very clear to the customer why the 16TB/month (50Mbps * 1 month) plan was a lot more expensive than the 65GB/month (200Kbps * 1 month) plan. But they hide it all in the fine print, so anyone that doesn't carefully read the fine print and extensively test the service doesn't actually know what they're getting. This is unfortunate. I don't think it's a net neutrality issue (it's not like they were throttled because the traffic was going to Amazon instead of Google), but rather a truth-in-advertising issue.

And yet I am pretty sure that in Germany at least, that plan would not be allowed to be called "Unlimited", no matter how fine the fine print ends up being.

I miss those consumer protections a lot since I moved to the US. It sometimes may seem to get a little bit silly (I'm not totally sure, but I think you are not even allowed to say e.g. "the best pizza" in advertising, because how would you prove that claim), but I easily prefer a little silliness over the deliberately misleading claims here.

Yep, if you use the word unlimited, and that's not what you're actually providing, you're a liar. Pure and simple.

If this is common practice, then these companies are all a bunch of liars.

As opposed to other places in the world, truth in advertising is dead in the US - and also Australia, for that matter.

Try using the word "free" in Norway if you're not prepared to offer that for free with zero strings attached, and see how far you get before feeling the weight of the law. (And "zero strings" here means exactly that in the most literal sense).

> and also Australia, for that matter.

what? Australia has some of the strongest consumer protection laws - sometimes I actually feel bad for the corporations...

There is a whole strict regulatory system for determining facts vs mere puff.

I studied marketing law in Norway as part of marketing science before switching back to tech and then moving down under; Australian marketing law is very very relaxed compared to Norway.

Really can you give examples? To give recent general advertising law examples about how strict the standards bureau is, in Australia it’s illegal to show a woman doing most of the housework, or a man being a bad father.

Any ad or promotion that features the word "free".

Edit: actual example, https://coleslittleshop.com.au

They are not free. You have to spend $30 to get one. The word _free_ is perverted.

This would be illegal in Norway: https://www.forbrukertilsynet.no/lov-og-rett/veiledninger-og...

> 5.3 Gratispåstander

> ”Gratis”, ”vederlagsfritt”, ”uten betaling” og lignende uttrykk må ikke benyttes i markedsføringen dersom gratisytelsen er betinget av kjøp av andre ytelser for å oppnå gratisytelsen.

translates more or less directly (using Google translate and then adjusting slightly based on my 15+ years of experience with talking and writing mostly Norwegian) to

5.3 "Free" Claims

"Free", "Free of charge," "Unpaid," and similar terms, may not be used in the promotion if the free good or service is conditional upon purchase of other benefits to achieve the free good or service.

That's pretty spot on; thanks.

This is anti-discrimation law, not customer-protection law.

Sorry they referenced marketing laws generally, consumer protection is covered by a thing called “Australian Consumer Law” and it’s very hostile towards warranties etc.

Both of which might be overregulation, but neither of which are relevant to the kind of laws being discussed here.

As an Australian, I have no idea how lax or strong the consumer protection laws are. I know they exist, and they are enforced by an identifiable, respected federal agency.

I have no idea whether the laws are good, or whether that agency does a good job in general. In fact, I have very little notion of what I should expect from good laws and enforcement in this field.

This is changing rapidly the last decade or so, especially in the telecom industry. There's quite a few companies getting into trouble for misleading advertising recently.

> There is a whole strict regulatory system for determining facts vs mere puff.

That sounds amazing. We should probably copy that entirely, for the US.

I know, right??

Some weeks ago there was this article on the HN frontpage (even though it wasn't about tech at all) about a scam that pretended to offer chance to win a car, except it was really a trick to pull people into some crazy completely unrelated money-sucking scheme, and the kicker was that nobody ever won a car, not even the car that was literally on display as being the prize!

And this is apparently legal in the US.

Similarly about the "House of God / 50 dollars or more" TV preachers that promise miracles if you send them money. Taking advantage, mainly of the vulnerable, who believe that, or even just believe they're supporting a proper Christian Church. But it's really just some person telling them to send them money. How the hell is this not regulated?

Is anyone surprised that if you don't have regulations to stop people from scamming others, you can't rely on a vague sense of common decency, because there are enough of them that will exploit it unless you tie their hands and speak out as a society that that sort of shit is simply not acceptable.

> And "zero strings" here means exactly that in the most literal sense

Well, hopefully not in the _most_ literal sense, because Verizon can probably manage to provide you internet service with no actual balls of yarn tied to the router... :)

> Yep, if you use the word unlimited, and that's not what you're actually providing, you're a liar. Pure and simple.

Then by definition nothing is unlimited... The whole universe has limits... there's a finite amount of atoms... even saying you have unlimited access to my comment would be lying because one day, you'll die, or the storage will die, or this comment will be forgotten...

I think if you sell an unlimited 200 Kbps connection, it's implied that it's a 65 GB one. Putting a limit on the bandwidth would be to offer LESS than what the other limits imply.

Saying unlimited 100 mbit/s but throttling it at 1 mbit/s sure, that is clearly false advertising because you actually get unlimited 1 mbit/s.

If nothing is unlimited, then you should not advertise as such. Not sure why you're even bringing that up except to be pedantic.

Pretty clear statement - unlimited data is either unlimited or not. Throttling customers because they reached the limit on what you're selling as "unlimited" is deceptive at best, and actually harmful at worst. We're seeing the latter here, and still people want to correct the customer on what unlimited means.

Simply put: this marketing tactic is a Bad Thing because it sells people something they didn't want with a sticker that said it was what they wanted.

This is neither helpful nor clever.

Is it silly? If I claim my pizza is the best, and I never even ran it in a competition, aren't I just lying? I could say that my internet service is the best when someone provides actual unlimited data in the same area and it's the same thing.

I would heavily prefer a country that actually had rule of law and didn't let companies just lie to consumers without consequence. The more this sort of thing goes on in America, the more people will disregard any semblance of law

If I claim my pizza is the best, and I never even ran it in a competition, aren't I just lying?

A (fairly mediocre) hamburger place back where I grew up heavily advertised themselves as "The award winning best burgers in town", reference (in tiny print) a test the local newspaper had done over 10 years ago. So basically it shouldn't be too hard to claim that your X is 'the best' according to some measure without having to outright lie.

In the US some phrases like Best are considered devoid of meaning. The issue is you can develop an arbitrary scale defining Best such as closest to our restaurant or whatever.

What really gets me is that words like 'unlimited' have a pretty unambiguous meaning. Is there any limit? Then it's not unlimited.

You can download as much data as you want over the 32 kb/s connection we provide you :)

I have 1Gbps (125MB) unlimited. I've never had any throttle. And down service is like max. 5 hours per year. Sometime I just put 100GB worth of torrents in queue, go eat lunch in kitchen and comeback and they are all finished. Welcome To Romania where unlimited is the norm here. Oh, and costs ~$15/month

But when you're not throttled at the start of the month and you are after reaching a certain amount of data usage (dare I say, a limit) then it is not unlimited.

I suppose someone could argue that you're always 'throttled', by network congestion if nothing else, and all they're doing is changing the throttle.

Exactly - big difference between and quantifiable and unquantifiable claims.

So do words like "best". Is there anything better than it? Then it's not the best.

> In the US some phrases like Best are considered devoid of meaning.

What. Do you still have warranty on that language, because it appears to be broken.

It's important to keep in mind that most people never know what other systems are like and so don't know what they're missing when they're missing it. I similarly reflect positively on the stunning relative clarity of freemobile in France selling 50GB high speed plans with free international data roaming for like 20 Euros per month. And now it's 100GB for the same. In the US for that price Verizon won't even spit on you.

Amusingly, freemobile sells a "4G+ illimitée" (unlimited 4G) plan that's limited to 100GB/month: http://mobile.free.fr.

The difference between Free's website and Verizon's is huge. On Free's website the details are front and center, bold, prominent. 100GB is right there. The plan details also give you a lot more for a lot less money, but that's a whole other can of bits.

True, but the website is very clear that the unlimited refers to voice and text and only 100gb is included. It's still shifty but way better than what the article is about.

No, actually they say "4G+ illimitée abonnés Freebox" and as they explain in the "en savoir plus" link, the limit applies to people who do not sign up to the Freebox plan (for home Internet).

Having just used it, it’s good but not great if travelling about. This mostly my fault and not theirs as I didn’t realise I needed a mobile number that can sent/receive sms. Many services require an sms for account setup and it’s a PITA not being able to receive them. Bike sharing and taxis were the two I wanted it for. The other weird thing was that one of the cards I bought worked in the U.K. and one didn’t. I never did figure that out but the prices are so cheap it wasn’t particularly problematic. Their (physical) store is also extremely easy to use for a jet lagged foreigner.

You need to go deep into the bowels of "Settings" and muck with some very obscure stuff called "Access Point Names".

The Free plan is amazing. 25GB roaming outside of France, too.

EU law requires no roaming rates, so there places outside France (and in the EU) which would be covered by the 100GB a month rule.

If you are paying less than €3/GB (before VAT) they can apply a fair use roaming limit which is lower than your domestic limit Which is calculated from the EU cap of €6/GB - so 25GB is well above what they have to give you for that price.

Free was actually offering free roaming before it made it into EU law. Not much of an edge now, sure, but credit given where credit's due.

Only for 60 days a year, I think. So this might cover the other days?

unfortunately anytime you mention something like this as a reasonable expectation for sane adults within the context of a us-focused discussion, one is almost immediately inundated with any one of:

- business must make a profit

- why are you being a socialist

- think of joe sixpack

- the USA is 'different'

arguments as to why this is not the case, and debate tends to die.

although I guess I'm saying 'the usa is different' in a different way.. so there's that

It's capitalism vs humanism. I'm not really sure why people prefer the former when the latter is an option. (I'm guessing it's knee-jerk from when it's not)

I say humanism because protecting (vulnerable) people from scams in advertising has nothing to do with socialism, and everything to do with people just being excellent to each other and helping one another.

Forces of capitalism have no compassion. It's quite a mechanical system, you can't expect that to produce a system with a consistent and sufficient amount of decency, without it tearing off a limb every once in a while.

Also in Germany you get competent customer service usually, from people who can think. In the US the customer service usually consists first of talking to AI bot and then to a person in Philippines who has trouble with basic English, but asks you to repeat everything you entered / said to the bot.

Is this comment just made off the cuff?

I've called customer service departments at about a dozen or so US based companies in the last couple of years, and haven't found this stereotype to be fair at all. Most of them were from the US as far as I could tell. Even when they were not, communication was not an issue.

You must have a knack for choosing companies with great customer service. I do not.

I wonder how much of that is language related? Plenty of people around the world speak English (with varying levels of skill and with various dialects). But not many speak German.

My experience was getting customer service in English in Germany: hotels/car rentals/ tickets etc

Yes, those are tourist industries, no surprise there's a lot of English. But the tier one customer support for a large teleco, or a bank? They probably aren't requiring fluent English for that.

First contact customer service in Germany are basically call-center farms hiring eastern-Europeans, Italians, and Spaniards as temp-workers, who wait to get out of there as soon a possible.

It's just culture-specific words-play targeting urges of local population. In Germany one can sell one thing but guarantee 50% of it (the cable internet market is an oligopoly):


or even only 30-40% of it:


>And yet I am pretty sure that in Germany at least, that plan would not be allowed to be called "Unlimited", no matter how fine the fine print ends up being.

My German O2 plan is called a "flatrate" and is throttled after 300GB according to their "fair use" policy. Both terms are verbatim what O2 calls it, Germans have a lot of anglicisms. They claim it has "bis zu" 50Mbit/s ("bis zu" meaning "up to").

So sadly no, in Germany Ginger Beer is called Ginger Brew, but DSL contracts are still scammy.

It’s a flatrate. Flatrate only implies the price does not change depending on usage. It does not imply “unlimited” or “no throttle after a certain limit” by itself.

We have a lot of anglicisms in the German language and a few of them have developed meanings different from their English counterparts. The word "flatrate" is one such example. In German it is not taken literally to be a "flat rate" but rather to mean "unlimited".

Yes, I agree with that. We used to have volume and flatrate tariffs for DSL. The flatrates used to be unlimited, then the volume tariffs were removed and the flatrates became volume tariffs with a high (but limited) volume.

Even according to English Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_rate

"A flat fee, also referred to as a flat rate or a linear rate, refers to a pricing structure that charges a single fixed fee for a service, regardless of usage."

Emphasis mine. I'd understand this as there being a service (e.g. high-speed DSL) which you pay a fixed fee for, independent of how much you use it. That does also mean that if you use it more they don't shut it off, because otherwise you're not getting the service independent of usage.

They don’t shut it off. It’s throttled after reaching a certain limit. It’s also illegal to advertise them as “unlimited” (please note: I’m native german, there’s no language confusion)

I am native german and I disagree on that count. It means “flat fee” and not “unlimited”. Local calls for example used to be “flat rate”, they’d cost a fixed fee but disconnect after about 30 minutes or so. (Yeah, I still remember that personally) Flatrates for mobile data never were unlimited, either.

As also a native german, I have to disagree in turn. Story time:

In the 90s, when the Internet started to come into popularity, me and friends were desperately trying to get a connection that didn't cost money per time unit.

For the longest time, with no free local calls like the US had, that simply did not exist, at least via dialup. One option was a "Standleitung", which was almost literally a permanent landline between you and your provider, same signaling and all. Only small providers would usually be talked into it, but then you had to pay a (at the time) huge monthly fee to the Post/Telekom because the line took resources away permanently. Some few people were lucky enough to be able to establish radio channels with their provider (this was long before WiFi was a thing). At one of my first jobs, I got ISDN "callback" as a benefit, which meant that I could call the router, hang up immediately, the router would call back and establish the connection, company would pay!

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the first few flatrates appeared. Stay online as long as you want, download as much as you want (at speeds that were still measured in kilobytes/second, but completely adequate for the time). It was definitely Unlimited.

And they were always advertised as “unlimited flatrate”. So yes, that’s my point. Unlimited and flatrate are two orthogonal concepts.

Let’s agree to disagree then, because my point is that they were just called “flatrate”. I even just found this article describing “the first flatrates”, which also just calls it “flatrate” without any qualifier throughout the article, but makes it clear from the beginning that a flatrate is, in itself, unlimited: https://www.netzwelt.de/news/76329-verkehrte-netzwelt-erste-...

Finally, I remember the “Alkohol-Flatrates” that came up in clubs a few years later (and were, unsurprisingly, soon outlawed). Their point was that you could get a theoretically unlimited amount of drinks for your cover charge of typically 15DM or so. In practice that’s a stupid idea of course. I tried it once at the behest of a coworker: The drinks were atrocious, the floor was covered in a thick grime of “free drinks” and the crowd consisted of the type of people who would be attracted to an “alcohol flatrate” in the first place.

'Unlimited' to telcos in the US is a word that means nothing, in any sense of the word.

It means the data is unmetered. Bandwidth may be throttled.

Contextually from whence we came (10cents a text, pay per megabyte), data being unlimited means no overages.

> It means the data is unmetered. Bandwidth may be throttled.

If bandwidth is to be throttled after a specific amount of data has been used (rather than, say, in response to current overall network load), the data is clearly being metered in order to detect when to start throttling.

Then be honest instead of lying: "Unlimited data; limited bandwidth".

...which turns out to be limited data anyway.

It's so pervasive that I automatically ignore any mention of "unlimited" regarding bandwidth or total volume of data. These "unlimited" plans are more like "first X amount of data per month at Y speed; Z speed thereafter", but of course that's not catchy enough for marketing...

Limited bandwidth means limited data over a finite time frame. Something like "No overages on data; limited bandwidth" would be more accurate.

Unlimited bandwidth still means limited data over a finite time frame. The distinction is meaningless.

Infinity times something finite is still infinite. I think this distinction isn't as important as telling people how much data their maximum really is based on how much they could actually use through the system

Now those advertisements for "wahrscheinlich das beste bier der welt" I used to see while I lived in Germany finally makes sense! At the time I thought they had confidence issues or just wanted to be very precise

Different beer (I think), but cf. the famous 1973 beer tagline: "Probably the best beer in the world".

Interestingly I would be surprised if that stemmed from onerous marketing regulations as suggested above.

I am pretty sure there's no consumer plan that doesn't have bandwidth cap in the US. And even if there wasn't caps, there are physical limits of the channels. So, does it mean no plan can be called "unlimited" at all?

> I think you are not even allowed to say e.g. "the best pizza" in advertising

That is silly. Ads are not peer-reviewed science article. Everybody knows that. Looks like a bunch of governmental busybodies in search of a "problem" they could "fix".


Saying "The Best Pizza" might be allowed if the viewer understand that it's just puffery and it's not really making a claim. It's a fine line though but I think best pizza would be allowed under the law.

Same in France. My plan is 1G/250M unlimited, as in unlimited. I could download at full speed all month long.

They rely on people like me taking the most expensive contract and knowing that nobody will ever max it out (rather running at sub percent levels of the pkan)

I really want to move to another country like Germany for a little while to see how different Capitalism is and get a sense of some sanity in relation to USA.

You totally should! Its not as hard as you think. I moved to Amsterdam for 5 years and had the best time of my life!

How would an individual go about doing this? Would they need a good degree?

I have a junk degree and currently work as a dev after teaching myself programming.

I do not know what immigration laws would apply. And I do not know what stack (and on what level) you program in. But at least my employer is actively looking for devs (Germany, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich or Frankfurt).

==> https://sinnerschrader.jobs/en/

It depends where you are going. From my experience any degree is ok. And some didnt need that although it did help a little bit with a special visa I was able to get.

Start off looking for a job. They could help you work through the visa issue, and most people need a job to live somewhere.

I’d recommend a combo of teaching English and freelance remote dev. Definitely possible to make it work..

As an American you won't get a visa (to the EU) with a story of 'I'm going to support myself by looking for a teaching job and doing some odesk'.

This depends on location though. Some places you can pick up local jobs in English because there are enough companies that work in English.

'undefined limit' seems like it would be a more accurate description

Sure, sure. But you're missing the point. When there's a major wildfire, and people's lives and property are at risk, it was incredibly stupid of Verizon to hamper public safety efforts. Maybe they were legally within their rights. And maybe the fire department screwed up. But if nothing else, it's horrible PR. And if people died because of it, I would expect criminal charges to be filed.

Edit: Verizon should have immediately restored full service, given the fire emergency. And waited to settle account status. What's the point of putting lives and property damage at risk over $50 or whatever?

Edit: And that does seem to be Verizon policy. It's apparently just that they screwed up here. From another article:

> Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations. We have done that many times, including for emergency personnel responding to these tragic fires. In this situation, we should have lifted the speed restriction when our customer reached out to us. This was a customer support mistake. We are reviewing the situation and will fix any issues going forward.


My experience with multiple telcos (Verizon, and others) leads me to believe they simply have very little operational control. Get their processes inmotion and find a competent local tech, and they'll sort it out. But try to get one department talking to another and it's a complete clusterfrob. Size, complexity, undertraining, lack of incentives, and distributed authority, and an under-empowered front-line CSR bureau.

>if people died because of it, I would expect criminal charges to be filed

I have a contract to rent you X fire trucks. I have other contracts with other people to rent Y fire trucks to them. There's a fire and X fire trucks are being used to save people in X+1 fires. That last person dies because you didn't rent X+1 fire trucks. I could have given you an additional fire truck in the allotment of Y. Morally you can make the case that I ought to give you one more fire truck but how have you made the case that legally I should give you a non contracted fire truck?

Destroying the truck renter's property rights by the state forcing me to give you my property (that +1 fire truck) but in the long run it results in under allocation of goods and theft-premium being added as a cost.

> Morally you can make the case that I ought to give you one more fire truck but how have you made the case that legally I should give you a non contracted fire truck?

At least in my country, legally speaking there is a case that you should send one of Y's trucks to X, as there is a risk of life.

Various towns requisition each others trucks, operators, and more during the bushfire season. And that requisition may just be a phone call with someone yelling that they need more help at the other end. And that's legally enforceable.

This leads to X questioning why they need any trucks at all, since they can always demand trucks from Y.

No it doesn't.

Maybe in the little thought experiment you're trying to conduct it does, but not in the real world. There are plenty of other variables at play.

X knows that if they need trucks and Ys are in use, then people die and they'll get blamed. They know that local trucks will respond faster so fewer people die.

In one off emergency situations in the real world, people actually help each other. We're not just a bunch of ideal game theory pieces in some amaeteur economist thought experiment.

If you offer unlimited fire trucks, but then limit the fire department to getting 1 fire truck a day, it's not really even close to unlimited is it?

If you offer unlimited fire trucks for $X per month then if someone only pay for one month in theory during that period they should have unlimited trucks. They don't...

Given infinite time they could obtain infinite fire trucks, so where's the limit? There is none.

Oh no! I wouldn't want under allocation of goods to happen, better let people die instead.

See this is why we can't have nice things in America like socialized medicine.

When people are dying, focusing on property rights is just plain evil.

I mean...take the good will you earned for that X+1 truck, renegotiate the contract.

If you want to sell a 200kbps plan with 50Mbps bursts, market it as a 200kpbs plan with 50Mbps bursts, not as a 50Mpbs plan. If you market something as a 50Mbps plan, it should be able to handle 50Mbps all the time.

SLAs should contain details that don't fit in your marketing. They should not say something completely different from what your marketing says.

Marketing a 50 mbps plan as 200 kbps just because it cannot "handle 50 mbps all the time" does nothing useful except make pedantic power users happy. It's not actually useful to the consumer. From an engineering point of view, consumer workloads are almost always bursty, with a race to idle, so it makes sense to engineer systems to optimize for such workloads. And the most honest way to market them is by reference to typical behavior under typical workloads. For example, it's a lot more honest for Apple to sell me a Macbook Pro as having "up to 10 hours of battery life" and a "up to 3.5 GHz processor" than one that has 2 hours of battery life and has a 2 GHz processor (under sustained load). Indeed, doing it the way pedants want is actively misleading to consumers because it obscures what they can expect under typical usage. (In the case of laptops, it obscures the massive gains in typical battery life that have resulted from modern processors being much more efficient at idle, even if not so much at load.)

Likewise, if you can deliver 50 mbps most of the time for the workloads your users will typically see (sucking down a 5MB page then idling for 30-60 seconds), that's the most honest way to market it.

> Marketing a 50 mbps plan as 200 kbps just because it cannot "handle 50 mbps all the time" does nothing useful

It's actually very useful in that it correctly tells you what speed you can expect.

If "50 Mbps" is the right way to describe a 200 kbps plan that can do 50 Mbps in bursts, what's the right name for a plan that can do 50 Mbps all the time? Really honest to god 50 Mbps?

"50Mbps dedicated" which just about any ISP will sell you if you're willing to pay business prices.

That's a step further than necessary. What's needed is for 50Mbps to mean by default that it's a 50Mbps best-effort connection without any artificial throttling below 50Mbps. Congestion is unavoidable and even a "dedicated" line will at some point put your packets onto an oversubscribed link if it's a real Internet connection and not just a point-to-point link. But it's inexcusable to sell something as 50Mbps when it's really "50Mbps for part of the month, then you're screwed".

There's a world of difference between "speed will sometimes drop due to congestion" and "speed will definitely drop by throttling", and a dedicated line is way out of this spectrum :-).

No, how can you say that omitting information the "most honest" way to market it? The obvious honest way is to give several performance indicators for the different circumstances.

Apple does specify two clock speeds when configuring Macs for instance. Battery life is not a good example, since that's normal and expected to vary under load.

Who is talking about omitting information? The hypothetical here is whether you market something as a "50 mbps" service with the caveat that it's best-effort, or "as a 200kpbs plan with 50Mbps bursts." At the end of the day, you have to pick one metric as the headline and relegate the others to parentheticals, pop-ups, or the TOS.

> The hypothetical here is whether you market something as a "50 mbps" service with the caveat that it's best-effort

It's already been explained to you that the "unlimited" plan at issue was clearly not best-effort after the limit was reached. The throttling that Verizon applied was around-the-clock and resulted in the fire department's device getting a tiny fraction of the speed that personal devices at the same location were getting. The throttling was not happening as a result of congestion, it was an artificial limit on a plan advertised as "unlimited". All theses arguments you're making about best-effort service are irrelevant distractions. A plan that stops being best-effort part way through the billing period cannot be honestly sold as "best-effort" any more than it can be honestly sold as "unlimited".

I'm fine with selling a 50mbps best-effort plan as "50mbps". A "200kpbs plan with 50Mbps bursts" is not that. If you are throttling people to 200kbps after a short burst, that is not best effort. A best effort plan would vary with the overall congestion, it would not drop off specifically based on your personal use of the connection.

I'm not expecting 50mbps literally 100% of the time. I am expecting them to make a good faith to deliver 50mbps at all times. If they actively apply throttling after a certain amount of data, that is not making a good faith effort to deliver what you promised me.

Short bursts are no longer the normal way for consumers to use bandwidth. Most bandwidth is now used for streaming media. In 2015, it was 70% of American bandwidth at peak hours[1]. It has probably only gone up since then.

[1] https://venturebeat.com/2015/12/07/streaming-services-now-ac...

But that's literally what you said: "it should be able to handle 50Mbps all the time."

> If they actively apply throttling after a certain amount of data, that is not making a good faith effort to deliver what you promised me

I agree that would be misleading, but who does that? I've never seen a plan that's advertised as e.g. 50 mbps unlimited data that throttles after a certain usage.

> Short bursts are no longer the normal way for consumers to use bandwidth. Most bandwidth is now used for streaming media. In 2015, it was 70% of American bandwidth at peak hours[1]

Measuring it by a proportion of total bandwidth is misleading,[1] because sustained loads will obviously use more bandwidth in the aggregate than bursty loads. But users likely still spend much more wall-clock time doing bursty activities (web browsing, refreshing facebook, twitter, downloading apps tore apps) than streaming. Given that a web page these days is in the 5MB+ range, it still makes sense to optimize networks primarily for bursts.

[1] It's like if you analyzed laptop battery life by looking at the total kilowatt hours used by different tasks. That would overstate the importance of things like gaming, which use more battery life in the aggregate but which users spend less wall-clock time doing than word processing or web browsing.

> But that's literally what you said: "it should be able to handle 50Mbps all the time."

Please be reasonable and apply some common sense. Colloquial statements are usually not intended to be taken to the most extreme level of literalness possible. It is commonly understood that any form of internet service may occasionally experience brief outages or degradation in service because of circumstances outside of the provider's control. It is not commonly understood that any form of internet service will necessarily involve the provider voluntarily causing that degradation in service.

> I agree that would be misleading, but who does that? I've never seen a plan that's advertised as e.g. 50 mbps unlimited data that throttles after a certain usage.

Verizon has multiple plans with "Unlimited" (some of them with the ridiculous names of "Above Unlimited" and "Beyond Unlimited") in the name that actually have limits once you look at the details. I'm not saying that type of plan is wrong to have, just don't name it something that is a bald-faced lie.

> Please be reasonable and apply some common sense. Colloquial statements are usually not intended to be taken to the most extreme level of literalness possible.

The problem is that there is a well-established distinction between a dedicated circuit, which offers a certain speed "all the time," and best-effort service, which offers "up to 50 mbps" subject to network congestion. To anyone familiar with telecom, it sounded like you were saying that only e.g. 50-mbps dedicated circuits should be advertised as "50 mbps."

I agree with you that if you advertise a 50 mbps best effort service, and also guarantee unlimited data usage, it would be wrong to throttle it after a certain amount of data usage. But to my knowledge, nobody does the combination of both.

> Verizon has multiple plans with "Unlimited" (some of them with the ridiculous names of "Above Unlimited" and "Beyond Unlimited")

Verizon doesn't have any consumer plans that guarantee both an amount of data usage and a specific speed. The plans that specify a certain speed (e.g. FiOS) do not throttle after any amount of data usage. The plans that specify unlimited data usage with throttling after a certain point do not guarantee any particular level of speed. You're taking "unlimited" to mean "without limits in both data rate and data usage," which is one possible, but not the only possible interpretation of the phrase.

> a dedicated circuit, which offers a certain speed "all the time," and best-effort service

Even dedicated circuits do not guarantee a certain speed 100% of the time. They guarantee a certain speed 99.x% of the time specified by an SLA.

> Verizon doesn't have any consumer plans that guarantee both an amount of data usage and a specific speed.

They do. They have multiple plans that specifically say "Unlimited 4G LTE Data"[1]. You might argue that 4G LTE is not technically a measure of speed, but it is certainly understood that way by consumers, so it should not be used in marketing if it is not intended as a measure of speed.

[1] https://www.verizonwireless.com/plans/unlimited/

> You might argue that 4G LTE is not technically a measure of speed, but it is certainly understood that way by consumers, so it should not be used in marketing if it is not intended as a measure of speed.

Even if it's hard to exactly quantify a priori what "4G LTE" speed is given that it varies with circumstances, it's pretty easy to show when Verizon isn't trying to deliver as much data as they have capacity for. The fire department did that, by comparing speed on their throttled device side by side with a personal device on the same network.

> It's not actually useful to the consumer.

It is useful to the consumer. It's not useful if you want to sell it.

I honestly could see both arguments being justified to a certain extent. And that's probably why nobody is too eager to try to regulate it, or a convenient excuse to not regulate.

One advantage of selling "200kps burst to 50Mbps": When tender for software that's the spec you give. "Your software must work in these cases". Otherwise software will be tuned to what you say you had ("50Mbps")

Also our contracts jurisprudence should take more note of this kind of argument.

I don’t think “misleading” is the right term. Advertising a plan as “unlimited” when it really isn’t is fraud. It’s crazy that they’re allowed to keep doing this.

I have no problem with capped data plans, but you have to advertise them honestly.

Reminds me of how Tic Tacs have "0g sugar" on the label.

You'd expect the average person to see this information and extrapolate that they are ingesting 0g of sugar whether they eat 1 or 100 Tic Tacs.

> Tic Tac® mints do contain sugar as listed in the ingredient statement. However, since the amount of sugar per serving (1 mint) is less than 0.5 grams, FDA labeling requirements permit the Nutrition Facts to state that there are 0 grams of sugar per serving.


One of my favorite instances of this is non-stick cooking spray. From the can in my kitchen:

Serving size: 1/4 second spray

Servings per container: about 565

Calories: 0

When you can make the serving size small enough, you can say there's no calories!

They actually fixed this with the new labeling requirements the FDA enacted a few years ago, so at least that's one step towards transparency.

If it's under 5 calories there is a margin of error rule that allows you to label it as zero. So just get the serving size small enough and it's calorie free!

I wonder if I could sell a box of 0.49g sugar packets. Serving size 1 packet. 0g sugar.

A great video about this kind of manipulation: https://youtu.be/mxNPpte_6m4

I don't even understand how the fire department was able to get such a plan in the first place. Nor sure about the US, but where I am, there are consumer plans which are cheap because they are oversold in hope that the consumer won't use the bandwidth all the time―and then there are company plans that cost at least 10x more but have guaranteed speed. And you can't buy a consumer plan for a company.

Selling plans with consumer-oriented limitations to companies sounds inane to me, it's just headache waiting to happen, or a shot in a leg like we see here.

> "We made a mistake in how we communicated with our customer about the terms of its plan," Verizon said. "Like all customers, fire departments choose service plans that are best for them. This customer purchased a government contract plan for a high-speed wireless data allotment at a set monthly cost. Under this plan, users get an unlimited amount of data but speeds are reduced when they exceed their allotment until the next billing cycle."

So it was a government plan, not a consumer one. Judging by their response, it sounds like the Verizon rep that sold them the plan told them it was unlimited, and the fire department didn't read the fine print closely enough.

What I'm saying is, IMO there isn't any reason for a non-consumer plan to have such terms, with variable speed and limited by the transmitted total instead. Like, even if the client doesn't use the bandwidth today, they may need it tomorrow, so the provider still has to reserve the channel.

Or, even if the provider decides to offer variable-speed plans, which means the speed isn't guaranteed, why would you, as a company, buy such a plan? Tomorrow you need the bandwidth, and you discover you have 1 mbps instead of 50 mbps, because the total bandwidth is shared with some other folks. What, you sit back twiddling thumbs and wait for everyone else to go to lunch?

Even if such a plan is intended for one business person, to check email and look at stock charts, it makes more sense for it to always have minimum guaranteed bandwidth, e.g. 500 kbps, instead of random speed with a limitation on the transmitted total. The entire reason for the 'transmitted total' metric in the first place is to prevent people from downloading movies 24/7, while allowing for the bandwidth to swing wildly—which is a use case of a home consumer.

So IMO, by offering this plan the provider laid both themselves and the client a mine, through which they would have to poker-face sooner or later, with no benefit that I see. And now this all blew in their face on top of that.

> I don't even understand how the fire department was able to get such a plan in the first place.

Exactly! It almost sounds like someone designed and built the vehicle and forgot that it needs internet connection. So when the department got it, they popped down to the local tech store and purchased a USB 4G module and just slapped it on.

> I very much agree with other posters that "unlimited" is a very misleading term.

Well, it's not very meaningful without attaching it to a clear quantity, is it? Should be illegal.

I think Verizon and other carriers should simply be required to advertise the lowest guaranteed speed, right next to the word Unlimited, in equal size font. None of this hiding it in the microscopic print nonsense; if it's only unlimited at 200 Kbps, then that has to be the big number. The plan is actually quite sensible if it's marketed correctly (unlimited base speed, with burstable higher speeds as the network allows within reason) but the current marketing is just entirely deceptive.

Those who recall Web Hosting Talk might remember that the term “unlimited” was banned from postings. The correct term is “unmetered” as unlimited data is a physical impossibility (“Infinite bytes, please!”). But it’s possible to have a shared bandwidth (potentially subject to throttling) which isn’t metered so you’re not subject to charges for your usage.

WebHosting Talk (that's a blast from the past) is still around:


Creation Date: 2000-03-23T16:45:52Z

"Verizon's plan should be assumed to be a 200Kbps plan that can occasionally burst to 50Mbps"

No, it should be assumed that they get "fast enough" up to 50Mbps... which they did get (and didn't complain about) up to the throttle (which they did complain about).

Sure, the data threshold and throttling are in the terms, but even Verizon admitted they made a mistake explaining the meaning of the terms to the fire department (easy to misread anyways for the average consumer, and throttling is not something the carriers advertise).

The net neutrality issue is the fact that Verizon wasn't throttling due to overall network congestion (which was an exception to the previous regulation), but just because the fire department hit the data cap... under net nuetrality this would not be allowed, though the risk is that not having throttling means a threshold data shut-off.

The ability to use 200Kbps all the time and the ability to use 50Mbps all the time are both limited to the speed they allow. Personally I'm fine with saying a plan is unlimited without requiring them to build infrastructure to host everyone on a single tower at the full rate. Throttling to give everyone equal access (especially during an emergency) is a lot different than simply throttling someone on an empty tower simply because they have used a lot of data. The first very much fits within what you'd expect from an unlimited plan. The second is simply punitive if you make use of your unlimited plan. I'm not sure which was the case for the firefighters.

Plans should specifically guarantee an average speed and the maximum amount of data usage available. The term unlimited is blatant false advertising.

The fine print isn’t that fine. It’s pretty clear what you are getting: https://www.verizonwireless.com/plans/unlimited/

No amount of print, fine or otherwise, can justify usage-based throttling on a plan advertised as unlimited. It's false advertising, plain and simple.

Verizon has even been punished for false "unlimited" advertising in the past, but they clearly didn't learn their lesson. https://consumerist.com/2007/10/23/verizon-to-pay-1-million-...

I don't like the practice either, but allow me to play devil's advocate for a second, although this is probably not what either of us wants to hear: I really don't think this could qualify as false advertising. The "limit" being referred to is the total data per month, not the bandwidth. Everyone knows bandwidth is always limited; that goes without saying. Moreover, the fact that "limit" refers to the total amount of data is pretty clear: when you buy a limited plan, we all know that "limit" refers to the total amount of data you can use in a month, not the bandwidth you are given. So when they say "unlimited", that is correct—they're indeed fully removing the limit, which is the total quantity of data per month you can use. Hence I actually don't see it as being false advertising. Is it misleading though? I'd argue yes; it's not straightforward and it's clearly intended to give a different impression to someone who doesn't take the time to make the logical deductions.

> The "limit" being referred to is the total data per month

Sorry, that justification doesn't work because their throttling drastically limits the total data per month too. Verizon advertises "Unlimited 4G LTE" and also that their 4G LTE has typical speeds of 5-12 Mbps with 50 Mbps bursts. At the alleged throttled rate of 30 kbps, you couldn't even download 10 GB in a whole month of 24/7 usage, when you could normally expect to download that much in less than 5 hours if you weren't throttled, or as little as 30 minutes at the highest advertised speed.

That's not what "unlimited" means. By your logic the word "unlimited" would still be outright illegal no matter what the bandwidth was. And by your logic the police officer giving you a speeding ticket is garnishing your wages. That's not how normal people think, us pedantic computer scientists notwithstanding.

By your logic a data plan with a 35 GB monthly limit is unlimited, simply because the last 10 GB is spread over the whole month instead of 5 hours. I'm comfortable saying your interpretation is the less reasonable one.

No, you didn't understand my logic. By my logic it depends on the context of how that limitation came to exist: was it due to the speed of light, a consequence of some other limitation, or an explicitly placed limit. But you're welcome to feel differently.

We're not talking about hypothetical limits based on the speed of light. We're talking about actual limits based on usage. A plan with a per subscriber usage limit is not unlimited no matter what logic you apply.

I see what you're trying to say, let me say it more clearly for you. "Since Verizon only throttles during congestion it's not a per subscriber limit, it's just network management". First of all, I don't believe for a second that they only throttle during congestion and I also don't believe that the amount of congestion they experienced justifies throttling all the way to 30 kbps. They make the throttling that severe to force people to upgrade plans, not because it's necessary. But all of that is moot because they are still using per-subscriber usage to make their throttling decisions. When two people with the same plan on the same tower are throttled differently based on their usage, that's a de facto usage limit and calling it unlimited is false advertising.

I'm not saying they shouldn't be able to throttle people based on usage. They can do it all day long as long as they don't call it unlimited.

That's not what I'm trying to say though...

They frequently pair the word "Unlimited" with a bandwidth related word. For instance: "Unlimited 4G LTE Data"[0].

[0] https://www.verizonwireless.com/plans/unlimited/

Yeah, exactly: just the same as how they might say "10GB 4G LTE Data". "Unlimited" doesn't refer to bandwidth any more than "10GB" does.

confusing, as LTE can range from very low to very high in terms of bandwidth.

LTE bandwidth varies between 5 and 40 MHz. Those are the chunks in which it's allocated in the radio spectrum.

You actually mean data rate.

All this arguing about the definition of one word whilst another is being casually misused is rather ironic.

1. LTE bandwidth: limited by regulating authorities and the size of bandwidth chunks for which telcos bid

2. LTE data rate: limited by (1) , physics and our current technology

3. LTE data usage: limited by (2) and any contractual terms

No I meant bandwidth. The ISP usually does not tell you which frequencies they use and which bandwidth they have available.

40 MHz only with CA I think.

Do you think this interpretation would pass the "put 10 random people in a room and ask them" test?

I think the majority would expect to get the advertised speed unconditionally (in particular: not conditioned on using it a lot). And I suspect that most of the people expecting the opposite would be doing so because they heard about someone else being burned by the wording, as opposed to figuring that out for themselves tabula rasa.

What exactly would be the question you would ask them? (Also, is that actually the test? I'm not familiar with it.)

It's called the "reasonable person". It's a test used for cases that are not covered by an existing law.


A reasonable person is not a random (or more sensibly, the average) person though. I think a reasonable person would agree with my explanation. I'm not sure the average person would.

Edit: Apparently multiple people are misreading and assuming I'm trying to flatter myself here. "A reasonable person" is a pre-defined legal term that I have little choice but to use verbatim here. It's essentially a proper noun, but without capitalization. Specifically, I'm _not_ describing my own rationality when I say "a reasonable person" would agree with me. What I'm saying is that I think the legal "a reasonable person" would reason the same way I just reasoned. If you still don't get what I'm saying: had the legal term instead been "a stupid monkey", then my sentence would have read "a stupid monkey would agree with me".

vilmosi 9 months ago [flagged]

Oh, get off your high horse.

I'm not sure you read the article. The whole point of a "reasonable person" is that it represents an "average person".

> this person is seen to represent a composite of a relevant community's judgement as to how a typical member of said community should behave in situations that might pose a threat of harm (through action or inaction) to the public

This is why we have a jury of our peers picked at random. The randomness is not random.

> Oh, get off your high horse.

That sort of personal swipe will get you banned here. If you'd please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and not do this kind of thing on HN, we'd appreciate it.

> Oh, get off your high horse. I'm not sure you read the article. The whole point of a "reasonable person" is that it represents an "average person".

Er, pardon? This isn't my high horse. This is literally your own article's text, which you yourself apparently didn't read:

> As a legal fiction, the "reasonable person" is not an average person or a typical person, leading to great difficulties in applying the concept in some criminal cases, especially in regards to the partial defence of provocation.


HN guidelines:

Please don't use uppercase for emphasis. If you want to emphasize a word or phrase, put asterisks* around it and it will get italicized.*

I also use _underscores_ sometimes. Does just as good a job at emphasising, but without seeming so shouty.

Ah, gotcha. It's an old habit from my writing style.

Far more disturbing than these for me was the parent's assumption of bad faith on my part... :\

Sure. But it's necessary to follow all the guidelines, not just some of them. Also, you responded to incivility with incivility ("which you yourself apparently didn't read"). Please don't do that, even when provoked.

Tough, but I'll try. Thanks.

This reminds me of a HN comment (sorry, can't remember which) where it explained that one of the major differences between US and European law is technicality vs the spirit of the law. Where in the US you can get away with a lot because it's "technically" legal, it wouldn't fly in Europe just because the fine print says so. It's plain old false advertisement.

Yeah, that seems consistent with what I've seen/heard.

Can total data consumed be more than (31 x 24 x 60 x 60)s x 50 Mbps in any month of the year?

Let us stop pretending that the lawyers who approve corporate literature are innocent and just misinterpreted the meaning of the word "unlimited".

These malpractices need to stop. Precise language needs to be made legally necessary for such literature. This is no "Kublai Khan" where the writer is allowed liberties normally unavailable.

Someone already posted a comment asking about this.

Limited bandwidth implies limited data per month ... just multiply bandwidth by time.

There's also an implied reasonableness test. That duffel bag I pulled out in the Olive Garden after purchasing the unlimited salads and breadsticks was disallowed. Not saying they are exactly comparable, but it's amazing how many of us can grasp that it's not truly unlimited but always think others are so easily fooled.

I dunno, looking at that page and scrolling down, there is absolutely no mention of any data cap on the left-most plan when looking at the three plans in the side-by-side comparison table.

The first plan has unlimited data with (after you hover to explicitly find out what that (i) is about) throttling in times of congestion. No mention of a data limit.

The other two both say the same thing, but that it only occurs after a data utilisation threshold has been met.

As the first plan says: "For people who want unlimited, and no worries" seems pretty clear to me that I should be getting unlimited, and not needing to worry about anything else.

Wow look at those plan names: "go unlimited", "beyond unlimited", "above unlimited"...

WTF does that mean?

Doesn't 'beyond' and 'above' imply some kind of limit.

Almost like Buzz Lightyear was employed by their marketing. To infinity... and beyond!

It literally is fine print...

"Go Unlimited" is subject to near-constant Network Management (corp-speak for "severe throttling"). "Beyond Unlimited" reserves this for after 22GB of data in a bill cycle; "Above Unlimited", after 75GB. So, yes, unlimited data; but no, not unlimited access to anything resembling "high speed".

> fine print.

> While fire department personnel thought they were already paying for "truly" unlimited data, Verizon said they weren't.

Despite the overarching issues here, what culpability is there when these public safety services who build reliance on these private companies don't do due diligence on what they use? We can all pull on heartstrings, say this customer is special after the fact, bemoan that both Verizon and the fire department have red tape making it a slower-than-necessary process, etc.

As a customer, I empathize with the fire department because it isn't always clear to us what unlimited is. But in this environment, while Verizon has fault here as does the general system, these public services need to do a bit more to ensure they are getting what they expect. Net neutrality isn't going to fix the "unlimited" wording issues or throttling as much as we'd like it to. That needs fixing sure, but in the meantime these public services need to get together and share info/plans/etc.

To the bigger problem...well, that's a different deal and not specific to this anecdote.

Rather than complain that customers don't read the fine print, how about removing throttling from the fine print and have companies advertise what they are selling?

If they are selling an "unlimited" plan, then it should be unlimited (i.e. without throttling of any kind)

If they are selling a "20GB then throttled to 128kbs speeds" plan, then call it a "20GB plus" plan so everyone knows what they are buying.

Commercial/.Gov wireless is different. Verizon and AT&T both offer true unlimited or pooled plans and will even kick off other users to prioritize public safety. I’ve even seen cases where they will roll out temporary towers for emergencies — something is hinky about this story.

Although Ars Technica is beating the net neutrality drum, this has more to do with a fire department administrator going cheap on operational costs, or not using the California state contracts. They are using an aircard in a command vehicle, probably with PC, multiple mobile devices and video as well. Just pay the $75 vs $40/mo, and you don’t have this problem.

They were using the Western States Contracting Alliance (WSCA) $37.99 unlimited plan for data devices, its a perfectly normal plan. Here in Seattle we use it for our busses WiFi Hotspots, on AT&T it is truly unlimited.

WSCA allows throttling if you’re a top 5% user locally. Not a problem in the middle of Seattle, but definitely something to plan for a command vehicle responding to wildfires and you have a high density of responders... particularly since the problem is so cheap to fix.

Also, another jurisdiction like police, state emergency management, Feds, etc may have a plan that allows them to deprioritize you at any time. If they were in FirstNet, a machine to machine plan, or a Verizon public safety plan, there would be no issue.

This is what freedom mobile does in Canada. All their plans say in big letters "250MB" or "2GB" or whatever, and then buried in the fineprint somewhere is "if you go over nothing happens except that we reserve the right to throttle your plan to 256 kbps for the rest of the month, and if you continue using tons of data we reserve the right to further throttle to 32 kbps for the rest of the month".

I'm happily living on a 250MB plan.

Huh. I was gonna say it's weird that they'll throttle you a second time, because I don't imagine you could download much at 256kbps even in a whole month of continuous traffic, but I did the math and it turns out you could get about 85GB in 30 days. So I guess that makes sense.

I still remember the times when a 256K internet connection was not cheap, and ironically also "unlimited" in the sense that you could saturate it 24/7 for the whole month and no one could care less. Many weeks spent waiting for downloads to complete... some from P2P too.

Same in Central Europe.

The power of conditioning! What exactly is the justification for having fine print at all?

I mean, if it is important enough to not be omitted...

> Rather than complain that customers don't read the fine print, how about removing throttling from the fine print and have companies advertise what they are selling?

That's the larger problem I alluded to. My point was about these important public services not doing some of the diligence many of us can. It's not about fine print or not, clearly what Verizon does is wrong, I'm just saying that these places need to put in a bit more research.

I think everyone here agrees that these companies shouldn't mislead, so just repeating that seems like obvious and meaningless discussion. I put "despite the overarching issues", "we can all [...] bemoan that [...] Verizon [...] have red tape", "I empathize", "fix the [...] wording as we'd like it to", "that needs fixing", "in the meantime", and "bigger problem [...] that's a different deal" all because it's clear what the larger problem is. My point is nuanced about public services and due diligence in these current annoying times, but clearly my attempts to avoid the obvious point didn't work.

I sorta disagree; if Verizon is dishonest and that catches someone off guard, it's not the fault of that party, it's Verizon's fault. Anything else is just victim blaming.

Sure. Admittedly, I don't really know how to "ask for victim vigilance in hostile environment" without appearing to blame them. The hostile environment is to blame, clearly.

Your argument would hold water if "victim vs perpetrator" were entirely black and white. Is Verizon not a partial victim for having an unreasonable customer that thinks $39/mo is sufficient for their mission critical communications bottleneck? Isn't Verizon partially a victim of politicians drumming up anger when the government itself contributed to the error by failing to read a contract?

You can't just assign the victim label and be done with your argument. There is nuance and shared responsibility.

Not everything is an exercise in identifying the victim, therefore the other is the perpetrator, therefore the 'victim' is absolved.

Is Verizon not a partial victim for having an unreasonable customer that thinks $39/mo is sufficient for their mission critical communications bottleneck?

I think this goes back to the "don't sell an unlimited plan if you're going to insist on limits". Verizon didn't have to call it an unlimited plan, they chose to.

> Verizon didn't have to call it an unlimited plan, they chose to

They could have just chosen not to compete in a market with unregulated definitions. You are improperly hating the player and not the game as though it's reasonable for them to not use definitions their competitors use when competing.

> They could have just chosen not to compete in a market with unregulated definitions.

I don't think it's about regulating words. If you promise to sell a blue dog but sell a green dog, I don't expect a regulation saying blue has to be blue.

It's just false advertisement.

Since VZN and ATT hire and fire all the people who write those regulations, hating them is hating the game.

> Is Verizon not a partial victim for having an unreasonable customer that thinks $39/mo is sufficient for their mission critical communications bottleneck?

Verizon's a victim, yes, but it's a self-inflicted problem caused by their misleading marketing so they don't deserve any pity. Verizon willfully tries to bury and downplay the limitations of their "unlimited" services, and it is entirely appropriate for them to bear the blame when people or local government agencies fall for it.

When you go to the page, you see three options: https://www.verizonwireless.com/plans/unlimited

"Unlimited 4G LTE Data" for $40

"Unlimited 4G LTE Data (22 GB)" for $50

"Unlimited 4G LTE Data (75 GB)" for $60

There is a little (i) symbol next to each one, with a mouse over box that explains the throttling. The throttling is also explained if you click the link "important plan info."

The first option could be clearer with a parenthetical, but with the three right next to each other alongside the prices it's pretty clear what you're buying.

I disagree that it's clear. Words have meanings, and

> By "unlimited", we really meant "limited".

shouldn't be a valid defense for misleading consumers. The plan would be more accurately described as "15GB 4G LTE Data". If the limits were stated more prominently, the fire departments could have avoided confusion and worked with Verizon or a competitor to get on a plan that wouldn't stop working at the worst possible times. Verizon could have also avoided some bad press by just waiving the fees and sorting things out later instead of demanding extra money during an emergency.

Your definition isn't accurate. That suggests that you don't get 4G speeds after 15GB, which isn't the case.

How is it clear? It contradicts itself. It’s not at all clear which part should be believed, unless you’re already familiar with ISP bullshit.

It's not contradictory. There are two dimensions: data usage, and speed. The plan is unlimited in the data usage dimension (there is no a priori limit on how much you can download). And it's not "bullshit" (at least, not more so than marketing generally). Instead of differentiating plans by data allowance, they differentiate them by who gets throttled first when the network is congested. That's actually a pretty sensible way to do it, and one that doesn't leave capacity on the table like pure data tiers or pure data caps.

It is pretty much impossible to construct a pricing plan for data service that will make power users happy. Data caps were crystal clear, but they are "gouging" because marginal bandwidth costs almost nothing. Fixed speed tiers are "false advertising" because sometimes the network is too congested to hit the advertised speed. The real issue is that companies are trying to achieve price discrimination, which benefits the average customer and the company at the expense of customers who use the product more intensively. It's like how Apple charges hundreds of dollars more for a few dollars worth of extra flash memory in an iPhone.

"Unlimited" doesn't mean "unlimited in one aspect if you squint." There's a limit, and then you get throttled.

It's perfectly sensible to design the plan that way. I'm not complaining about the technical aspects, I'm complaining about the naming.

I don't really see the relevance of your second paragraph. Yes, people will complain regardless. That doesn't make false advertising OK. The real issue is that companies want to sell something they cannot provide.

> There's a limit, and then you get throttled.

There is no a priori limit at which you get throttled. If there is no congestion, you can exceed your limit and not get throttled. Even if you get throttled, you don't get cut off, just slowed down.

There's certainly more accurate ways to describe that than "unlimited" but I don't think it's particularly egregious compared to U.S. marketing in general.

22GB and 75GB are limits. They may be soft limits, but they're still limits.

> It's like how Apple charges hundreds of dollars more for a few dollars worth of extra flash memory in an iPhone.

Unlimited iPhone X

small print: Actually only can hold 256GB.

Yes, what all carriers are doing is lying. The corrupt telecommunication and advertising industries allow it lobby for it, and the US government allows it. Many other governments do not.

It's more like Samsung advertising a "2.8 GHz processor" with an asterisk, when in reality it'll throttle far below that after a minute or so of load: https://www.samsung.com/global/galaxy/galaxy-s9/specs. Or Olive Garden advertising "unlimited soup and breadsticks" when in reality waiters will start giving you dirty looks after a certain number of refills. Or a company selling a firewall that can do 10 gbps but only with no security features turned on. Marketing that's only true under specific conditions is pervasive, not just something in the telecom industry.

Samsung doesn't have an asterisk, they call it out as a "maximum" right next to the number.

(Strictly speaking there is an asterisk, but it indicates that there are multiple versions of the hardware, unrelated to throttling.)

In any case, this is not quite analogous. There's a difference between "you can only achieve this speed sometimes" and "your plan is unlimited only if you don't pass the limit." It's not that "unlimited" is only true under specific conditions, it's that it's never true.

I don't understand the purpose of your comment. Even if there are worse things out there, so what?

> I don't understand the purpose of your comment. Even if there are worse things out there, so what?

I think advertising is bullshit in general. Yogurt commercials talking about probiotics and whatnot. But that's a much bigger debate, and I suspect we agree on that front. But if we define "false advertising" to exclude most U.S. advertising, I think it excludes Verizon's data plans as well. It's technically true because they don't cut you off after a certain number of MBs. That's all advertising has to be in the U.S.

(And as a practical matter, it's not even really misleading for the typical consumer. I've never looked at my bandwidth usage after switching to Verizon's "unlimited" plans, despite having very heavy cell phone users in my household. Even if I'm exceeding the soft limits, where I live I never run into congestion that would lead to throttling. The marketing accurately conveys that the typical consumer can stop worrying about overages. Which is a lot better than the promises made by yogurt commercials.)

> But if we define "false advertising" to exclude most U.S. advertising, I think it excludes Verizon's data plans as well.

I guess this is the confusion. My point is not that Verizon is doing something unusual and should be singled out for it. My point is that Verizon's behavior here is emblematic of how this country treats advertisers in general, and an "unlimited" plan with limits is just particularly obvious example of how we let companies lie to us.

That page offers services for personal use. Verizon isn't making an offer to provide services to businesses/government via that page.

The appropriate offer is here where you must contact a rep who is probably trained to inquire about the business's requirements: https://www.verizonwireless.com/biz/plans/business-unlimited...

Where does it say that? I read the page and skimmed the "Important Plan Info" page, and couldn't find anything that restricted it to personal use.

For the $40 plan, the page says "For people who want unlimited, and no worries", and if I were buying a plan for fire command center, that's exactly what I'd want -- unlimited and no worries.

Though since none of the pricing they mentioned in the article matches what's on this page, it's likely that they did have some business plan.

Is anybody really confused about what these plans are offering? Especially someone handling IT for a large government entity? The plans say:

> Important Plan Information

> Unlimited Plans 4G LTE only. During times of congestion, your data may be temporarily slower than other traffic (only after 22GB/mo on Beyond Unlimited or 75 GB/mo on Above Unlimited).

Beyond that, anybody who is purchasing service for something like a fire department would know the difference between best effort service and a service with an SLA. Consumers will always be best served by having over-provisioning and best-effort service, because their needs are by nature bursty. Put another way, if you build a network that never throttles, you're leaving tons of capacity on the table that would be better used to offer faster burst downloads.

That problem is not best-effort service, it's a government entity that doesn't realize it needs a level service with real guarantees.

> During times of congestion, your data may be temporarily slower than other traffic

Their complaint is that they were throttled 24/7, not just during congestion.

> But while such throttling is generally applied only during times of network congestion, the Santa Clara Fire Department says it was throttled at all times once the device in question went over a 25GB monthly threshold.

perhaps we should have provable throttling where if your connection is throttled you can prove this to a third party after the fact, and if a service provider is carrying subscriber data, it can prove so to a third party after the fact too. This way when say the fire department notices it's connection is being throttled, yet it suspects the network is not congested, then it can file a complaint after which it is up to the provider to prove it was indeed congested by data from other subscribers (by showing timestamps of hashes of data, signed by subscribers)

Before we allow ISP's to (ab)use fires, we should insist on provable congestion. If they refuse to self-regulate the internet traffic in the public interest, then the public interest should move to regulate internet traffic just like it regulates car traffic: priority to emergency services first.

There is a way for this. LTE has the RSRQ measurement. Example: -3 would equal nearly empty cell, -12 heavy load on the cell.

I've Googled a bit and I don't understand how this measurement works - it seems like a value that shows how good the received signal is.

Yeah, descriptions are confusing. Basically the quality lowers because other devices are using the network. I can post a plot later.

I was describing a hypothetical system such that congestion levels would be provable as they happen. For all we know our household connections could be artificially throttled during evening hours when the network is supposedly congested, while in fact they are trying to push us on more expensive plans.

In fact I am not against on the spot pricing schemes, as long as the demand and supply is provable.

I would consider such a system neutral enough. I wouldn't mind scheduling some datasets to download when network demand is low etc...

I'd definitely like to see this. Apparently you can pull the value from an unrooted Android, too.

Here it is, sorry for the delay:

https://i.imgur.com/vXIXSlA.png Here I started a download, the rsrq drops. After finishing, the rsrq rises again. Note that the values are still "jittery" so a single value should not be taken as a clear indicator that a cell is congested.

https://i.imgur.com/opdFV9d.png Here is a graph for the last 7 days. One can see that during nighttime received quality rises, while it lowers during daytime.

Device in use is a Huawei B618, no external antennas.

It’s not only the cell’s radio bandwidth that might be experiencing congestion. It could be another part of the network.

Maybe, but I think it is safe to assume that the ISP backbone is not the bottleneck.

> temporarily slower than other traffic (only after 22GB/mo

In my experience, this is BS. I live in the sticks and when I hit my limit (which is 15GB in mifi...22GB is for phones), I get 600kpbs or less at all times, not just during "congestion". And I can't imagine how much congestion there is in my rural area. 600kbps is nearly non-usable.

If I sold you unlimited water but after 1 gallon you could only drink one drop per minute that doesn't make me a liar but it does make me an asshole for telling you it was unlimited.

> when I hit my limit (which is 15GB in mifi...22GB is for phones), I get 600kpbs or less at all times, not just during "congestion“

The plans clearly say that for Mifi (i.e. hotspots), the limit is 15GB with 600kbps thereafter, not unlimited...

The root problems are the LACK of regulation of throttling algorithms, content classes, obsfucated service agreements and enforcing the honesty of claims. Letting telcos "regulate" themselves and take over the FCC (Ajit Pai, et al) leads inexorably to unsustainable collapses and calamities like Enron, not necessarily within the telco arena, but externalities borne out in the real world.

No regulation leads to social Darwinian inverted totalitarianism where corporations are free to indirectly exploit, savage and murder whomever doesn't pay.

Not true at all. Less regulation leads to multiple market entrants that can compete in price and quality. Over-regulation leads to the opposite of that. Remember how expensive long distance calls used to be? A direct result of regulation, same for regulation over airline routes. Regulation led to monopoly routes that gave Pan Am a monopoly on major international routes, making prices daramtically higher than they are today.

To be clear, I am not talking about safety regulation, but competition regulation.

Utterly untrue.

Look at New Zealand and countless other countries who have forcably unbundled their networks. Everyone pays less and there is true competition between providers.

Utilities like the internet gravitate toward monopolies and less competition. Utilities MUST have regulation to protect consumers from their monopolistic nature.

Why does then EU countries have much cheaper and faster internet and cell data than the US? The market there has much more regulations with one explicit goal being to increase competition.

> Why does then EU countries have much cheaper and faster internet and cell data than the US?

At least as to wired Internet, they don't: https://www.akamai.com/fr/fr/multimedia/documents/state-of-t... see also: https://www.recode.net/2017/12/13/16773062/global-internet-s.... The U.S. beats Germany, the U.K., France, Spain, and Italy (the countries comprising the large majority of the EU population).

The U.S. is also one of just five countries to have more than 90% LTE coverage: https://opensignal.com/reports/2018/02/state-of-lte. The big EU countries have faster LTE speeds, but much lower coverage (ranging from 65% in Germany to 83% in Spain).

That opensignal report is not about coverage. 4G coverage in The Netherlands is 95%+, not 89% as per the report. When the various operators got their 4G licenses they had to provide 95%+ coverage within a certain amount of years.

Belgium has a 94.5% coverage as per last year. The report shows 85%.

The reason is pretty simple, per the report: "OpenSignal's availability metric tracks the proportion of time users have access to a particular network."

That's not coverage. Your source doesn't show what you think it does!

This category of issue is surfacing more and more in marketing of a variety of products and services. Advertisers are using terms that traditionally meant one thing and then redefining them via fine print legalese. Further, they're also advertising one price with an actual total significantly higher (e.g., hotels charging a "resort fee" on top of the regular room rate).

Years ago a company I worked for used a Verizon reseller so they wouldn’t have to deal with the seemingly endless non-service related issues. Great signal/service but atrocious sales and customer service even for business accounts. We paid a premium on top of a premium just so we didn’t have to deal Verizon’s sales/support directly. I doubt it was the best financial decision but being able to get a replacement phone delivered same day/next morning with no questions asked, having billing problems dealt with quickly or issues with the definition of unlimited sorted out in minutes was amazing.

That was years ago though so things may be different now.

You are correct Sir. In my un-named Scandinavian country with many mountains, we have a dedicated emergency cellphone network. That is the only way.

When reading up on of the latter hurricane, i was positively surprised that quite a few US states have laws against price gouging while there is a "state of emergency". Seems like even the US prefers society working together to save lives in cases of emergencies instead of companies using those opportunities to maximize profits.

You'd use the same line of argument here, if we are talking about an actual emergency and not just ordinary operations (can see that from the article). I do understand intentional actions like price gouging are worse than keeping the usual automats running. But still, with "state of emergency" in effect, I'd hope for communication companies making all installed (idle) capacity available, even when not payed for.

My problem with anti-gouging laws as typically implemented is that the threshold for gouging is set too tightly, resulting in hoarding behavior being an entirely rational thing to do. Texas AG warned businesses in a post-hurricane area that if they “raised prices more than 10%, we’re going to look into that.”

In such an environment, if I couldn’t be sure when the next supplies were going to be available, it would be entirely rational to buy as many supplies as my family needed for the worst reasonable case. So, right up until the gas, food, and water runs out, I’m buying at a normal price.

Now, companies that might be able to truck supplies in from nearby areas (using additional trucks, fuel, and overtime labor) also don’t have a profit motive available to them, because they can only sell at normal+10% prices, which may not cover the genuine increased costs.

So in an attempt to protect consumers, we move from a state where supplies are available to those with need (albeit at higher prices) to a state where the quickest, sharpest, and best capitalized get all the food, water, and fuel and none is available at any price. I think the latter state is a less desirable one.

Cmon, your "Atlas Shrugged" level hypothetical is way off of the IMO quite reasonable US implementation summarized on wikipedia[1]. Yes, hoarding can be very bad and thus laws will reflect that.

Capitalism & markets are great, but have failure modes we have to be aware of. Emergency situations exhibit many of those and thus it can be beneficial to temporarily suspend usual markets and capitalism on some levels. You cant make an informed purchase decision with no time, information, nothing to trade or a combination of all of those factors.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price_gouging#Laws_against_pri...

Wasn’t a hypothetical, but based on actual event.

See the quote from the Texas AG in the article here: https://abcnews.go.com/US/texas-attorney-general-warns-price...

If you were a shop owner faced simultaneously with increased inbound costs, constrained supply, utility interruptions, your own family and home to be concerned with, and that threat from the AG, would you sell anything to anyone? To anyone over 65? Why not just close up shop until the situation passes and hunker down at home protecting your own family? I’d probably do the latter rather than risk the fines. Does that make people better off?

In a survival situation, suppressing the price signal suppresses the clearest signal for consumers not to over-buy, especially for goods that can be traded for other needed supplies.

$99/case for water the day after a hurricane might very well be the “optimal” price until the soda/beer companies can switch over to bottling (canning) water to the affected area. Keep it at $18-20/case and the first 5 customers will rationally buy it all, because that checks that concern off their list. It doesn’t even require them to be misanthropes, just providing for and protecting their families. Worst case, water becomes available quicker than they thought and no harm to them other than they bought $100 worth of water for $100.

They had these services in place. The service was changed after the repeal of Net Neutrality.

True, it did (from congestion-based throttling to data-cap-based throttling), and nefariously so. But that's not my discussion point here. According to the article, they have special services for "public safety services" that this department was not using. Why not? Does their neighboring department? Or the state of CA? Trying to save a buck or general ignorance towards what's available? The general ignorance can be excused due to misleading claims of "unlimited", but I'm saying in this sucky world, they have to overcome that and maybe they can with more research or asking other departments/governments or Verizon themselves.

These cellular contracts are negotiated under the Western States Contracting Alliance (WSCA), its $37.99 on both Verizon and AT&T for "Unlimited" data. In a prior life I had more overview on these plans, and only Verizon directly throttled these plans, AT&T would let you use hundreds of gigs with no issue.

Also, these plans are bespoke and rarely worked with, its likely their Verizon rep didn't bother to look into any of the handful of custom plans that you get as a WSCA account. Another benefit is a flat 25% discount or thereabouts IIRC, any public agency or charity in most states can get these plans FYI.

> Despite the overarching issues here, what culpability is there when these public safety services who build reliance on these private companies don't do due diligence on what they use?

Are you assuming it's possible?

First, if they're a monopoly, your "due diligence" is "Yep, we need a service and they're the only ones who provide it. We build our own using money we'll never have or we go with them."

Second, cell phone companies are known for lying. Just outright lying. (My proof: If a service is limited, calling it unlimited is a lie.) How can you do due diligence when the party you do it with is lying to you?

They did due diligence. They bought the unlimited plan. "Unlimited" that is not unlimited is not unlimited. It's false advertising.

It’s true it is unlimited data, but that doesn’t mean speeds have an SLA.

Unless you posit an infinite period of time, one limits the other quite a bit.

This story reminds me of exactly what recently happened to the company I work for.

About 2 years ago, a couple employees including myself began working at a new location with no wired internet access. They were given Verizon USB dongles to plug into their laptops. Including those dongles, company-wide there were only a handful of devices on this Verizon plan.

Over time, the company got more employees at the new location. We were provided a wireless hotspot (one of the verizon jetpack devices) for everyone in the office to use. Eventually we started getting messages from the company's IT department that we were using too much data. Turns out every single verizon device at the company shared a single 60 GB data cap. Our device alone used like 15-20 GB. It only takes a couple devices used like that to blow past the data cap.

Since the company was adding new employees at the new location, as well as giving out more dongles, we managed to get them to switch to a larger data plan. I think it was 80 GB. As you can probably guess, it didn't take long to go over the cap again. Finally, some time late last year we were told by IT that the company switched to an unlimited data plan. No more caps.

Fast forward to the last 3-6 months. Like clockwork towards the end of the month the internet is slow as hell in the office. I would clock it in the 20-70 kbps range. We check the display on the hotspot and the data usage section says "Data usage: 26 GB / unlimited". I call our IT department and am told, "that's really strange. Let me call Verizon."

The next day IT calls me back. I get told "You're not going to believe this. The company data plan is unlimited. Verizon has a per-device cap at 22 GB, and then they throttle the connection. They want such an exorbitant fee to increase the device cap that it was cheaper for me to order a hotspot for everyone in the office (about 4 or 5 new devices)." Since we had a bunch of local devices set up on the jetpack's LAN, now whenever we hit the 22 GB cap and get throttled, we just swap in a new SIM from another device.

It really makes me laugh though, because when we have a few devices using roughly 15-20 GB each, Verizon had no problem letting us blow past the 60 GB data cap. None of the devices throttled the connection. The company would just receive a bill with hefty per-GB overage charges each month. When we switched to the 'unlimited' plan, IT was just as surprised as we were with the throttling. That was the whole point of the 'unlimited' plan.

This is one anecdote. But the fire department's experience reminds me way too much of the experience at my company. It's possible that both the fire department IT and my company's IT didn't do their due diligence. But my instinct tells me that verizon doesn't always make it clear that "unlimited data plan" is "unlimited data plan with a per-device cap, and subsequent throttling," especially if you are switching from a capped multi-device plan to an 'unlimited' multi-device plan.

Why, it is almost like public services are not incentivized to weigh options and alternatives.

I wonder how many people read the article to the end, let alone the addendum filed by SCCFD [1].

This has nothing to do with the definition of "unlimited" or the fine print for it. OES 5262 (that's a CalOES resource) had sufficient bandwidth for fire response needs up until the Mendocino Complex incident, when their connection was strangled so badly that it wasn't just slow, it was unusable, during a major state disaster. This put a lot of lives directly at risk.

Their brief is arguing in support of the lawsuit against the FCC that's attempting to overturn the repeal of net neutrality. They argue that in a deregulated environment, providers like Verizon can and will use disasters to strong-arm responding agencies -- state and local governments -- into paying higher fees. This is well supported by Verizon's emails, which flatly refused to assist SCCFD until they ponied up the extra money for a plan upgrade that they didn't need until the Mendocino fire.

The article also adds that the FCC's removal of net neutrality removed the ability for SCCFD to complain to the FCC about this behavior.

A few people are saying that maybe the fire department should have more carefully reviewed their plan information, or they should have had more qualified people in IT. Well, maybe. I looked up Eric Prosser's LinkedIn profile, and he's spent his whole career in management. Maybe there was a technical issue, or maybe it was just an oversight.

But ultimately it's hard for agencies to attract strong technical talent, especially in Silicon Valley, where so much of that talent is working on the much more interesting problems of squeezing more money out of advertising or debt collections. If you want your first responder agencies to have working technology, get involved. Somewhere in each of those agencies is a human being who may not think about things like bandwidth throttling as carefully as HN's nerds.

[1]: https://arstechnica.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/fire-depa...

This is outrageous, but it's outrageous because it is legal to describe something as unlimited that is in fact no such thing.

The reasonable thing here would be to simply require companies to be honest and state the actual bandwidth they provide.

This issue seems orthogonal to net neutrality; the real problem is in allowing companies to mislead.

> The reasonable thing here would be to simply require companies to be honest and state the actual bandwidth they provide.

It wouldn't surprise me to find out that Verizon wants this too. Or maybe not, I don't know the landscape. But I don't expect them to altruistically abide by more reasonable definitions of these terms while their competitors don't (unless being honest is part of their selling point).

why doesn't anyone sue them? I am sure a jury would hate a telco just as much as anyone else...

Is the data capped? When they exceed their data cap, does the service shut off?

If you went to an unlimited buffet and found out that you could only get one 'full' plate, then every other plate could only have one small piece of food and only once every hour, you'd be yelling about false advertising.

If we want truth in advertising, then the banners would say

"Unlimited 200Kbps Internet, capable of 25GB of 4G burst speed"

Which is much different than

"Unlimited 4G Internet", then a bunch of small text about the limits.

Yes, the service is "reliable fast internet". If I buy "Unlimited LTE 4G Internet" it's not ok to serve unreliable, slow internet after a "limit".

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