Last month I wrote an article about how I planned to cancel my Verizon contract and move to the prepaid network, Straight Talk. The carrier advertises unlimited minutes, texts and data for $45 a month—significantly less than the ~$120 a month I was paying with Verizon.
My general experience was okay until I hit 1.5 GB of data and had to deal with their customer support and extremely vague explanations.
Disclaimer: I preemptively knew there would probably be some kind of data cap before I signed up. In fact, their terms and conditions state that they can reduce data speeds for essentially any reason.
When I first ported my number over, I had a very positive experience. Here in Omaha Straight Talk utilizes AT&T, so coverage was pretty decent when I wasn’t inside a large building. Data speeds were acceptable, but I was never able to test the network’s speed with apps available on Google Play. MMS and SMS (picture and text messaging) also worked well.
Long story short, there weren’t very many complaints until I surpassed 1.5 GB of data.
As I was nearing 1.5 GB, I had a feeling I’d receive a warning about nearing some kind of data threshold—Verizon had always given me a heads-up when it came to data usage. Instead, I was immediately throttled to the point where loading websites literally took minutes. I no longer could upload photos to Facebook and Twitter, and was unable to send or receive picture messages; however, text messaging and calling functionalities never seemed to be affected.
After a few days of trying to get over the throttled service, I decided to research Straight Talk’s claim of “unlimited” data. That research lead me to an article published by the company on April 8. The article sets out to correct the “rumors online that there is a hard cap of 1.5GB for data” and claims—in bold—”We are NOT cutting off data at 1.5GB on Straight Talk.”
Before I called the company’s support personnel, I checked my Straight Talk account to see if there were any notices or warnings posted—there were none. When I called the company, I was told my account was throttled and was redirected to the “high data assistance hotline,” a lengthy, pre-recorded message telling me to “lessen the usage of [the] browser” and use Wi-Fi more.
I called again—this time to get an explicit reason to why I was being throttled, and also see if I had surpassed an unspecified data cap or violated any terms and conditions. I was transferred to a woman by the name of Dianice, who flat-out said I was “abusing the service” and “need to stop” using so much data. She also explained that there is a 1.5 GB cap on data usage—directly contradicting the article I mentioned earlier.
I honestly don’t believe 1.5 GB of data is “abusing the service,” especially on an “unlimited” data plan. Sure it might be a little high, but I wouldn’t classify it as abusing to the point I’m causing harm to their network.
Dianice mentioned that the data speeds would be restored to their previous levels within 24 hours after the service end date if I paid for another month of service—which is false according to the email transcript below. She also said being throttled was a first warning, which was surprising since I was never notified on my account page or via text message.
I emailed the company to get a second opinion. (Skip past the transcript for a synopsis.)
“Straight Talk Mia” on Twitter recommended this email address to me with regards to my data plan being throttled.
I signed up for the service because of your “Unlimited” data plan, but after I surpassed 1.5 GB of data used, my phone has experienced a dramatic drop in data speeds and can no longer send or receive picture messages (MMS). In addition, I cannot upload pictures through social media apps like Facebook and Twitter.
I called your helpline yesterday and a woman by the name of Dianice said I was “abusing the service” and there is a 1.5 GB cap on data. I have currently used 1.85 GB of data on my phone. This is not abusing the service.
The 1.5 GB cap was surprising to hear, as your “Unlimited minutes, texts & data” is frequently displayed in advertising. There is also no mention of this 1.5 GB cap in your terms and conditions that I agreed to. On top of this, Straight Talk published in this blog post “We are NOT cutting off data at 1.5GB.” (Link: http://www.straighttalkblog.com/2013/04/straight-talk-data-clarification.html?m=1)
If you are not cutting off my data, you are surely throttling it to the point where I cannot reliably use it anymore.
Additionally, your terms state that prohibited data uses include “uploading, downloading or streaming of audio or video programming or games.” I asked if streaming YouTube videos or using Spotify, Pandora or other popular streaming apps would be in violation of the terms; the response was no. When I brought this up with the representative, she said I can use these services as long as I stay under the 1.5 GB limit, again contradicting the statements made in the Terms and Conditions and the claims about the 1.5 GB cap not existing.
Finally, Dianice stated that my data being throttled was a “first warning.” I have not received any notifications in regards to this said warning.
If you could please respond to this, I’d greatly appreciate it.
Thanks for sending us an email.
There is no specific capacity or percentage with regard to the internet usage with Straight Talk. We do not have the exact limitations for data usage especially if the customer is on unlimited service. To avoid excessive date usage, make sure to lessen the usage of your browser, do not use your phone as a modem to a computer and make sure to exit the browser correctly when you are not using it.
Data is unlimited but can be altered if misused. Straight Talk’s Terms and Conditions states that we can discontinue or terminate data connections or reduce data speeds for customers whose data usage is abnormally high compared to the usage of other Straight Talk customers. Straight Talk has the sole discretion to terminate the service especially, if it is harmful, disruptive, or interferes with the carrier’s network or Straight Talk or the carrier’s ability to provide service to other customers.
The grounds for throttling or suspension of data service are not limited to excessive data use only. For further information on what caused your data service to be throttled, you can contact our customer service representative at 1–(855) 222-CELL (2355), open from Mondays to Sundays, 8 AM to 11:45 PM.
Lastly, your data service will be restored at a reduced speed 24 hours after adding an airtime card on your service end date.
Feel free to email us back, if you have additional questions. Thanks!
Me: (Arrows show my response.)
[“]There is no specific capacity or percentage with regard to the internet usage with Straight Talk.[“]
>>That is not what the two representatives I spoke to said on the phone. They said there was a 1.5 GB cap.
“We do not have the exact limitations for data usage especially if the customer is on unlimited service.”
> >If there is no limit on the data that can be used, then why am I being throttled to the point where I can barely use my phone? I still haven’t received a specific reason to why I’m being throttled. My data usage is not through the roof, it’s only at 1.85 GB.
>>Define “abnormal” and how I am misusing your service.
“Lastly, your data service will be restored at a reduced speed 24 hours after adding an airtime card on your service end date.”
>>So, since I was throttled, does this mean I’ll never get my original speeds again. Even if I renew my service?
“The grounds for throttling or suspension of data service are not limited to excessive data use only.”
>>Again, [I] haven’t received an explicit reasoning to why I’m being throttled.
“We do not have the exact limitations for data usage especially if the customer is on unlimited service.”
>>That directly goes against what your terms of service state.
We do offer unlimited service but it’s bound by our Terms and Conditions of service. If your data usage is higher than the usage of other Straight Talk customer, then we will reduce your data speed. Excessive usage may be harmful or disruptive and possibly interferes with the carrier’s network or Straight Talk or the carrier’s ability to provide service to other customers.
Unfortunately, you will no longer be able to go back to your previous data speed. Your data service will be restored but in a reduced speed.
This is completely unacceptable, as you’re basically saying my data is unlimited, but not really. Not only do you fail to give me an exact data usage limit, now you’re saying my data will never be restored to its original speed even if I pay for the service the following month. Both of these items were never listed in any documentation.
Again, unacceptable given I never broke any of Straight Talk’s terms and conditions and was never notified of any violations.
I will be leaving the network and documenting my experience.
What did I learn from this email conversation?
- Straight Talk doesn’t have a data cap, but really does
- Straight Talk is misleading consumers to believe they’re on an “unlimited” data plan
- Straight Talk fails to warn users of high data usage in a timely fashion—if at all
- Straight Talk fails to explicitly specify when a user will be throttled and/ or blocked
- If your data speed is ever throttled on Straight Talk, your account will NEVER be restored to its regular speed—even if you continue to pay for service
- You can stream and download audio and video on Straight Talk, although their terms and conditions explicitly state it’s prohibited
What else did I learn from this experience?
- You will be throttled on Straight Talk if you surpass 1.5 GB of data
- My data access was blocked at 1.9 GB
- Throttled data speeds make it almost impossible to reliably use your phone if it’s not connected to a Wi-Fi network
- Straight Talk will block MMS (picture messaging) once you’ve been throttled
- You cannot upload images to Facebook and Twitter once you’ve been throttled
- Straight Talk doesn’t know it has a data cap
Let’s not end on a completely negative note here. Straight Talk’s service was great until I surpassed their invisible 1.5 GB threshold. Everything honestly worked well until then.
If you’re thinking about switching to Straight Talk—and never use more than 1.5 GB of data—I would still recommend the carrier; however, since I’ve been permanently throttled, I’ve moved to Net10.
I really wish Straight Talk would be more open with their policies. If I had to offer some advice to Straight Talk, I’d tell them to do three things:
- Not lie about unlimited data; specify a data cap like Net10 does for AT&T SIM cards
- Proactively warn users of “high” usage
- Clarify their terms and conditions
Ultimate conclusion: Straight Talk’s “unlimited” data plan is bullshit because of their invisible 1.5 GB throttling threshold and unspecified 1.9 GB data cap. If you ever use more than 1.5 GB of data, your account will be permanently throttled—even if you continue to pay for service. The company’s terms and conditions are contracted by their own customer support representatives and can be confusing to the average consumer. That being said, the overall service is fine if you never surpass 1.5 GB of data.