Straight Talk’s ‘unlimited’ data plan is bullshit

Service has an invisible data cap, fails to warn of high usage

straight-talk-data-bullshit

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.

straight-talk-twitter-error

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.”

Interesting.

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.)

Me:

Hi,

“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.

Straight Talk:

Hello Alex,

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!

Regards,

Hazel

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.

Straight Talk:

Hi,

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.

Hazel

Me:

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
straight-talk-blocked-data-access-chrome

I was blocked from using Straight Talk’s data network at 1.9 GB.

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.

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  • kelli

    Ok so I have had the exact same problem except I bought 6 months of unlimited minutes that dont expire until October!! So Im screwed until then?

    • Sammi M

      You’ll be screwed forever. The next time you buy a plan, your data speed stays the same..

      • http://www.technofyi.com/ Alex Kuklinski

        Yup. It really sucks. I’m still investigating to see if they can actually do that, given it is not in their terms.

    • http://www.technofyi.com/ Alex Kuklinski

      Sammi is right. You’ll be throttled over the entire duration, which is unacceptable given they never stated this in their terms of service.

      • Sandor K.

        I just moved to the USA and before I’ll sign up for any service I’m doing some research. Thanks for everybody for everybody for these comments. I won’t get service such a prick company like this. I am a lawyer in a Europian Country, and I this company would be sued big time there.

  • jatwalmart

    I’ve been working at walmart for the last 3 years selling these phones and dealing with their customer service. Within the last 6 months straight talk really started penalizing their customers, before that I never heard a single complaint about the internet speed being throttled or terminated for “misuse”. Now its almost everyday I see a customer come in who had just renewed their service less than a week ago and had their internet service throttled or otherwise inoperable. I used to talk straight talk up to customers left and right for their “unlimited” plan. I have sold and activated dozens of iPhones on their plan just for then to get screwed over and you know who gets blamed for this? We do, the walmart representatives that talked them into spending $650 to have an iPhone 5 for $45 a month. I like helping customers not screwing them over. It makes us look bad for their faults and I have not and will not be selling anymore of their smartphones due to this. Ill stay with my contract plan thank you.

    Also, on a side note: my girlfriend has one of the straight talk lg optimus “zip” phones and she has been able to stream pandora all day everyday without being throttled or terminated once. The inconsistency is what gets me most. You never know WHEN they are going to do it, you just have to go about your life with a huge data axe above your head. The next time you comment on your friends’ picture could be the last.

    • http://www.technofyi.com/ Alex Kuklinski

      Thanks for sharing. One of the purposes behind this series is to show the positive and negative sides of going prepaid. This just happened to be a bad experience.

  • Amandalynn4595

    I switched to Straight Talk on January 7, 2013, because I needed a carrier that gave me service in places my old carrier did not (parents house out of state, etc). My mom informed me of Straight Talk because one of her friends has it, and she planned to switch from AT&T to ST when her contract was over. I switched and was extremely happy with my service, and customer support. My first problem happened a few weeks into my first month. When going online, I got the “Access Forbidden” message, so I called, and the tech support lady helped me out. I don’t remember what she said the problem was, but internet was fixed before I even got off the phone. I never had another thought about it, until reading this, after a bad day with tech support.

    My refill date was May 7, I believe, but 3 days ago my data not only quit working, but I didn’t have the symbols in my notification bar. I thought it may have been a tech problem at their end, so wasn’t too concerned until today (day 3). I called tech support, and dude had me on hold while he “looked over my account”, that was fine, time on hold to fix a problem is time worth spending. After about 10 min of holding he came back on and said he’d transfer me to “another department” who can “better help you”. Again, I was fine with this, I’m still thinking the problem will be fixed, that is after all the impression I got from the guy. I was then transferred to the automated recording saying I had “abused” the terms of service, and “gone over 1.5 Gb”. I was shocked and confused! So, I called back! I got another man, and explained my last call, and how I was confused about going over the limit. I explained that I am paying for “unlimited data” and even if there is a 1.5 Gb cap, how did I go over it this month, but never in the past (I’ve used a lot less data this month than I normally do), I just don’t understand, could he please explain it to me. I expected to be asked questions about my data habits, apps, etc. For example, “Did you watch a lot of videos this month?” Answer to that, is no. Only things I use data for are MMS, email, a couple apps that don’t use much, and the occasional Google search. Instead, I was told that he’d transfer me to a department that could “better explain” things to me. So AGAIN I thought I’d be transferred to another human, instead I was again transferred to that recording.

    What I got out of that recording:

    * I “abused” the terms and services (by MMS, email, and Google search?)
    * My data won’t be turned back on (I’m suspended) until 24 hours after I pay, but I can’t pay early to get my data back early.
    * Customer service can’t help me.
    After finding out that my data will NEVER be restored to what it once was, I will be switching, and making sure no one I know gets ST. Last I heard false advertising was against the law, how are they still getting away with this??

    Lol, sorry this was so long…I’m PISSED!

    • http://www.technofyi.com/ Alex Kuklinski

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience. It’s really a shame that they treat their customers this way, especially those who are just trying to legitimately use the service they purchased.

  • Ken

    Also just had this same experience with my daughters phone. They told me she was flagged as a “violator” but couldn’t tell me how. When I asked how much data did she use, the supervisor indicated that they don’t have that info, it was the “System” that flagged her account. Nice…. blame it on the “System”. What a croc….

    Worst customer service experience I’ve ever had with a cell phone carrier. I doubt it will do much good, but I’m not headed over to the Federal Trade Commission website to see if I can formally file a complaint for “misleading or false advertising”. Amazing….

  • Allen Vidonish

    dont buy refillcards more than a month in advance if you get throttled buy a new sim and reregister. sure its a pain in the ass but its 45$ a month and a good chance youll get away with it for a while befor you get the axe. i been using data like a nut and never get throttled. 1.3g this month so far 2.1g last month

  • Rocela Ginther

    This was my experiance! At the end of this message i have attached a link to Abington Cole who is trying to start a class action suit against ST for this exact issue. Please go to them and tell your stories!
    I was unable to send mms messages for a few months but did not bother to call because it was not that big of a deal to me. One day my internet completely stopped working with a message stating that there is no internet connection available and this prompted my call. After speak with a representative we had a long conversation and she finally stated that she was going to update my information and then my internet should be restored. I asked her what needed to be updated and I received a vague answer basically saying it just needed to be updated. My internet began to work immediately. I also asked about my mms messages and she stated that my phone was not unlocked and I would need to contact Att to fix the problem. This did not make any sense to me because everything else was working and if the phone was not unlocked then it would not have worked at all, but I went ahead and contacted Att. After an hour long phone call with Att I was told that the phone is unlocked and I would need to trouble shoot this issue with Straight Talk. I called Straight Talk and informed them that Att stated there was nothing they could do and ST would need to handle the issue from here. The representative then stated that I had reached a cap of 1.5 GB and that is why my mms messages are not going through, but when my new cycle starts my data will be restored and the messages should work. I asked her how is it possible that I have a cap on my data when I purchased an unlimited plan. She stated that I was not using the internet “properly” and was abusing it. I then asked what is considered “proper use” of the internet and she explained steaming, open and closing browser, etc. I informed her that I was doing exactly those things and that this is not making any sense. How are you going to advertise unlimited data and then state that I am using it “improperly” therefore justifying reducing data speeds and blocking mms messaging. She kept stating that it is all in the terms and conditions but I have yet to see anything that states there is a 1.5 GB cap on the plan. She ended the conversation by stating that I should read my terms and conditions and I will see that there is a cap on the data. I hung up the phone after that because I was so irritated with the conversation. This is false advertising and Straight Talk should have to pay the consequences. Terms and conditions state something about if a person is abusing the data and using a lot more than other ST customers it could be slowed down, but apparently 1.5 GB’s is not drastically more than what others are using since many customers are having this issue.

    http://www.abingtonlaw.com/Straight-Talk-Wireless-class-action.html

    Thanks for reading!

  • TomClayman

    I thought they would throttle me, but I was throated! Still gagging.

  • ajm531

    So first off I really really liked this article. I’d like to share a recent experience I just had. So bought the service almost a month ago may 2 or 3. It as a pretty good month. Now I was throttled well actually my internet service as completely terminated. My calls and texts still worked. Now granted It was my fault. I mean they let get to somewhere between 12-15gbs and yes I was doing tethering so I wasn’t really upset about it. I was actually surprised I got that much data cause I knew of the terms that they could throttle service at any point depending on the area and it’s users. What I was initially upset about was that pre recorded message that refilling my minutes wouldn’t restore service. Like you I couldn’t get a very clear answer about the restoring data. Well yesterday I bit the bullet and renewed my service because I needed the number active. I received no data as stated. But this morning I awoke to seeing my data symbol active but I want getting data. My data settings informed me my apn settings we’re incorrect which stick me as strange. So I googled it and apparently straighttalk changed their apn settings atleast for their att SIM card. I had the old ones in so I changed them and PRESTO!!!! My internet was back. At full data speeds and all. So with all this said I will report back as I don’t know if this 1.5gb cap is completelyin place or not and let you know my experience for this month with the new restored service and data and new apn settings. By the way what apn settings were you using in your experience?

  • Amjad

    Well my experience with ST has been good so far. I’ve been using it for a long time now. Only reason I ported over to it is they have really good coverage in my area (inside buildings too). Their data cap supposedly is at 2 GB. I don’t think anyone uses more than that on a smartphone in a month unless you are tethering it to your laptop or desktop (which is not legal according most carriers) and even if you are using streaming YouTube or Pandora. Plus there’s WIFI almost everywhere today – buses, trains, restaurants, etc.

    IMO, just use a data monitoring app to monitor your 3G/4G usage and you should be good.

  • Kristi Lee Maret

    Yesterday my mobile web was disconnected, not reduced or anything,
    STRAIGHT OUT STOPPED!!!! I have been with ST for over 4 years and have
    NEVER experienced this before. I always use hot spots whenever possible,
    which is most of the time, however when I called St they would not give
    me a straight answer, all they would do is transfer me to an automated
    recording. I called 5 times in total. When I asked to speak to a
    supervisor they said they could not transfer me to one because it is
    against “policy” on my 5th call “Marvin” said he would transfer me to a live person… YEAH RIGHT I was hung up on!!!!!!!

    This has been the worst customer service I have personally received from ST. I fine it unacceptable for them to cap, disconnect or throttle ANYONE’S service when it’s supposed to be “unlimited” for crying out loud we pay for unlimited so that is what we should get, right? BTW I have a freaking smartphone so I am restricted to “unlimited” so yeah they can kiss my butt…

  • Kaz

    BULSHIT this plan, I have not gotten internet back after getting reduced for over 2 weeks and after adding airtime to my service, I kept calling for 2 weeks almost every day they keep telling me it is investigating and they keep telling me to cal in 24 hours fuck this plan I WILL NOT EVER USE THIS AGAIN AND I RECOMMEND EVERYONE TO DO THE SAME. once again fuck u straight talk for wasting my time

    • Manny Crawford

      same situation here will be switching carriers next week

  • Taylor Lynn Marbut

    wtf. i hate straight talk, even more now, than i did yesterday. Which was a substancial amount of hatred. I was told that I could use my At&t phone, well, i can but after all the trouble i have to go through i really want to just curse out the CEO. screw straight talk……..