AT&T cracking down on jailbreak tethering? [UPDATE]

AT&T cracking down on jailbreak tethering? [UPDATE]

Here’s something sort of unexpected… A few people have received text messages from AT&T saying that, to tether a smartphone to a computer, it requires a tethering plan. The ones who’ve received these messages are all jailbroken, and use MyWi, a jailbroken application to allow Internet tethering over WiFi, USB, and Bluetooth, for their Internet tethering needs.

Continue reading to find out more about this.

AT&T cracking down on jailbreak tethering? [UPDATE]

One of the users who’ve received the text message also received a message via email:

Dear [Customer],

We’ve noticed your service plan may need updating.

Many AT&T customers use their smartphones as a broadband connection for other devices, like laptops, netbooks or other smartphones– a practice commonly known as tethering. Tethering can be an efficient way for our customers to enjoy the benefits of AT&T’s mobile broadband network and use more than one device to stay in touch with important people and information. To take advantage of this feature, we require that in addition to a data plan, you also have a tethering plan.

Our records show that you use this capability, but are not subscribed to our tethering plan.

If you would like to continue tethering, please log into
your account online at Cell Phones and Cell Phone Plans – Wireless from AT&T, or call us
at 1-888-860-6789 Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. CST
or Saturday, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. CST, by March 27, 2011
to sign up for DataPro 4GB for Smartphone Tethering.
Here are details on the plan:

DataPro 4GB for Smartphone Tethering
• $45 per month
(this gives you 4GB in total, combining both your smartphone data plan for $25 and the tethering feature, $20)
• $10 per each additional GB thereafter, added automatically as needed
• Mobile Hotspot capabilities are included for compatible Smartphones

If we don’t hear from you, we’ll plan to automatically enroll you into DataPro 4GB afterMarch 27, 2011. The new plan – whether you sign up on your own or we automatically enroll you – will replace your current smartphone data plan, including if you are on an unlimited data plan.

If you discontinue tethering, no changes to your current plan will be required.

It’s easy to track your usage throughout the month so there are no bill surprises. For example, we send you free text messages when you reach 65, 90, and 100 percent of your plan’s threshold. If you would like to monitor your account more closely, go towww.att.com/dataplans to learn about other ways to track your data usage.

As a reminder, our smartphone data plans also include unlimited usage of Wi-Fi at no additional charge. AT&T smartphone customers can use Wi-Fi at home or on-the-go at any one of our more than 23,000 U.S. hotspots already included in your data plan.

Thank you for bringing your account up to date. We appreciate the opportunity to continue to serve your mobile broadband needs.

Sincerely,

AT&T

Nobody’s 100% sure as to what’s going on here, but I’m automatically going to assume that those who’ve received these messages are heavy data users, and use tethering quite often. I, myself, can easily go through at least 12GB of 3G data per month. Probably about 15% of that data is being used via tethering (in emergency situations, or whenever regular WiFi isn’t avaialble). I’m sure most of you will consider that to be a lot, but I haven’t received anything from AT&T about this. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. But, I think that these guys are heavy tethering users.

It also probably isn’t just MyWi users who may be affected. There are a few other tethering solutions, such as PdaNet, and TetherMe (which enables native Internet tethering (4.2.1 and below) or the Personal Hotspot feature (4.3 and up)).

I’ve reached out to AT&T for a comment, and haven’t received anything back. I’ll update this post if I ever get a reply. See the update below.

What can we learn from this at this point in time? Keep your tethering usage to a minimum :).

UPDATE
I’ve received a reply from AT&T, and they are basically just trying to keep everything fair for their customers (those who are actually paying for tethering):

We’ve just begun sending letters, emails, and text messages to a small number of smartphone customers who use their devices for tethering but aren’t on our required tethering plan.  Our goal here is fairness for all of our customers.  (This impacts a only small percentage of our smartphone customer base.)
 
The letter outlines three choices:
1) Stop tethering and keep their current plan (including grandfathered unlimited plan)
2) Proactively call AT&T or visit our stores and move to the required tethering plan
3) Do nothing and we’ll go ahead and add the tethering plan on their behalf — after the dated noted in their customer notification.

I then asked if AT&T had a way for checking if someone is using tethering, and here’s the reply:

The ability to manage our network and enforce our policies enhances the quality and consistency of the customer experience; this is nothing new.  In this case, our network is able to determine if a smartphone customer is using the device as a broadband connection for other devices.

Bottom-line: If you really must tether, subscribe to a tethering plan (although they’re quite overpriced).

[Via ModMyI, TiPB]

Feel free to follow Brian on Twitter!

  • London Snoward

    “If we don’t hear from you, we’ll plan to automatically enroll you into DataPro 4GB afterMarch 27, 2011. “

    I hate when companies do this… STOP automatically signing people up for shit without them asking for it first… so fucked up

  • STi_G

    I wonder if this also applies to the people who legitimately bought that app (can’t remember its name right now) from the app store that enabled tethering.

    It sucks that AT&T is doing this because Verizon is currently offering an unlimited 4G plan with free hotspot feature.

  • manuel

    At&t charges people for phone service then Data and text messaging and now TETHERING? Its companies like that to push people to have to result in jailbreaking when trying to screw hardworking people for every last dollar they may have. A 600 dollar phone and a $100 plus plan a month and now trying to charge more is ridiculous At&t!! How many millions of dollars is enough already?

  • manuel

    At&t charges people for phone service then Data and text messaging and now TETHERING? Its companies like that to push people to have to result in jailbreaking when trying to screw hardworking people for every last dollar they may have. A 600 dollar phone and a $100 plus plan a month and now trying to charge more is ridiculous At&t!! How many millions of dollars is enough already?

  • Ha

    verizon caps your hotspot feature.

  • Ha

    Here is the deal. If you got the message, you’re a high data user – period. You don’t necessarily have to be jailbroken.

    AT&T has devised a plan to juice the high data users. I believe they cannot tell if you’re currently jailbroken or not without a significant amount of research and review of the ip traffic logs. This initial message was to spook/shake the tree. Think about how many people switched plans and now lost their unlimited data plan forever – which they don’t offer anymore.

  • Guest

    I’m torn on this one..

    I HATE when companies crack the whip and make you pay for a service that, in my opinion, should be free.. I have 2Gb of data and may only use 100Mb a month. I have an iMac and a MacBook Pro that would love to tap into the other 1.9Gb of my plan and should be able to without paying another $20.00 a month.

    BUT….

    I understand why they are doing it. Just like what we have heard about AT&T putting a cap on their ADSL service. People who use more data more often are clogging the towers! Maybe this is true, maybe it isn’t, but this unverified fact leads me to this….

    In my opinion, if you use obscene amounts of data and truly need tethering, just pay for it or use a different service; cable (WiFi), ADSL, etc. We were all happy when Verizon got the iPhone because we hoped AT&T’s network would free up and we all would have faster service. The bigger issue is people using their unlimited [phone] data plans for their [up to 5] other computers. Again, if you use it, pay for it.

  • Guest

    Irrelevant. iPhone doesn’t support 4G.

  • Gouldsc

    This all goes back to AT&T being allowed to legally to redefine “unlimited” to mean, “we can do whatever we want.” My response would be that I was going to write them a check for an unlimited** amount of money to cover the cost.

    **actual amount of check will be based on available funds at time the check is written, and subject to my own personal scrutiny, whims, or discretion.

  • beaub

    Nice, so let them automatically subscribe you, then you can get out of your contract without penalty as they’ll have unilaterally changed the the terms.

    Might have to amp up the MyWi usage at end of May/June so I can be on target to switch to Verizon with the iPhone 5!

  • prometheus1981

    Playing devils advocate for a second, AT&T is asking him and giving 3 options:

    1. Sign up for the plan you are already using without paying for.
    2. Keep tethering even though your are not authorized to do so and we will have to enroll you automatically.
    3. Stop tethering.

    With that said, I tethered and love it, but my reasons not to pay are as follows.
    1. I pay $30 for unlimited access to the internet with my phone, the same internet that I access through my computer, so why do I have to pay extra for the same thing?
    2. On the other hand, if I would pay for tethering why do I have to loose my unlimited plan?

    AT&T, you want me to pay you for tethering, then let me keep my unlimited plan and I’ll consider, otherwise GTFO!

  • akri

    I’m so sick of the big companies always wanting to get rich off of us little people. Why the f****k don’t they go after big corporations and millionaires…MF!!!

  • akri

    LOl…well said Scott!

  • Guest

    Dude, they are offering services that we pay for! If you don’t like it then don’t use their services! If you were a cell carrier, would you like knowing that some costumers are using their unlimited plans on, and crowding your network towers with all of their devices? Then having to answer to your stockholders about dropped calls and slow data transfers due to high network traffic? That’s why they offer ADSL. You buy a data plan for your CELL PHONE and expect to be able to use that service for all of your devices for free? Get your mind right dude and stop expecting handouts.

  • Teemu

    Haha, internet tethering has been free in Finland with iPhones since 3.0 patch since 6 / 2009 :DD
    america style is to limit everything and get money from everything, lol, I use like 11 gigabytes per month and I pay 10 euros (14 USD) per month XDD

  • Don Pope

    What a money grab!
    I understand charging extra for tethering with the unlimited plans, because those plans were meant for mobile use, but tethering should be free with any limited plan. After all, 2GB are 2GB no matter where they go.

  • Jamal22

    This is why people sue.

  • Jamal22

    Exactly! I might consider it a fair deal if I could cancel my “unlimited” data plan for $30 and buy the tethering. I say AT&T is double dipping their customers.

  • Jamal22

    Oh, this is sooo kind of them, “As a reminder, our smartphone data plans also include unlimited usage of Wi-Fi at no additional charge.”
    Wi-Fi that cost them zero.

  • Jamal22

    “WE let you click your apps and view the clock on YOUR phone at no extra charge,” aren’t we a nice company?

  • Guest

    @Guest – Agreed. But jailbroken apps like MyWi is giving customers the ability to double dip their service.. I really hope one day AT&T and all other carriers will get with the times and offer free tethering on limited plans.. I get to keep my unused minutes, but can’t use 2Gb of data because I don’t use my iPhone that much for internet service. At least give me a chance to use my data without charging more. And if I go over, then charge me 10 bucks per Gb; Deal? :-)

  • Archvillan

    It isn’t unilateral. By using MyWi, you have chosen to opt for tethering. Tethering costs $45/month

  • MeanKidneyDan

    I agree. i can’t understand why we with unlimited plans can’t have the tethering and hotspot features. they give no reason other than “Because shut up.”

  • Voice of Reason

    Finland style is to take all your money upfront in obscene taxes and let the government control everything :DD

  • Shaunathan

    there’s a small company in California with actual unlimited plans for a flat monthly fee. It’s a shame they don’t officially have the iphone.

  • mudpup

    I agree that if you pay for X#gig it shouldn’t mater how you use them. But the data pro plan is cheaper than any other mobile hot spot plan I have seen.

  • ray

    Take your business elsewhere if you don’t like it. They change your terms, you can get out of it without an ETF. I am on AT&T’s side on this on if you’re jailbreaking and using shitloads of data a month. I’ve actually never had a need for tethering.

  • Guest2

    >>Here is the deal. If you got the message, you’re a high data user – period. You don’t necessarily have to be jailbroken.

    I don’t think this is necessarily true. For example, unencrypted BitTorrent traffic is easy to detect. So if AT&T seems BitTorrent traffic flowing over a non-tethered users account, the user is tethering, no matter how much data the user is using. This is only one example, but there are hundreds of ways to detect this.

  • Erik9999

    I’m glad they are finally doing this. I pay for tethering and am quite happy with it.

  • GuestToot

    A user sucking down a BitTorrent could be using a BitTorrent client for iOS, such as Torrentula. Accessing a torrent isn’t necessarily a sign that a computer is involved.

  • MoistPup

    Do they legally have the right to inspect the contents of your phone, or how the data travels through your phone (and out the other end through the cord…) I can see this leading to some hefty invasion of privacy class action lawsuits.

  • MoistPup

    Amazingly, despite their high taxes, gun control, and socialst leanings:
    Their people are healthy.
    Their children are well educated.
    Their roadways are in good condition.
    Their crime is low.
    Their poor are not starving.

    Wait… I wonder if any of those things are related to that high tax rate…

  • MoistPup

    perhaps streaming flash as well..

  • Daibidh

    And how on earth does this relate to the topic at hand?!

    But while we’re here…. What exactly IS “Finland style?” Better schools? Better health care? Better economy? Higher standard of living?

  • Jesper

    I guess we Swedes should be lucky. I payed $400 for a 12 month plan @ $35 per month on my 16gb iPhone 4. That includes unlimited surfing with tether, free text message to the whole world and I call for 3 cents per minute.

    I’ve never dropped a call and I have great data reception everywhere.

  • kiil

    Do not know about inspecting the contents of your phone, but they do have the right to inspect the packet headers of your data being transmitted over their network. These headers contain the the routing tables needed to insure that a router delivers the data to the correct device. Remember these mini-wifi routers are cheap implementations that in all likelihood will not offer masking or other anonymous services.

  • kiil

    To be fair they mean their own Wi-Fi hotspots and not Wi-FI in general.

  • yahoo-IDB37HJROWS4TKH2WU6OT5QOAE

    Not if you jailbreak it and use MyWi. :P

  • tMyers327

    what if i use pdanet (hotspot app)?

  • CharliK

    Actually you can’t. Because you signed terms that said you know you should be paying for it AND they reminded you and are giving you the choice of action. So they aren’t breaking anything. But you are. Legally they could probably just add it without warning you first or even freeze your service until you fix it. Heck they could probably find a way to legally dump you if they wanted to.

  • CharliK

    But they didn’t. Not with this. They change the terms last summer, that is when you could leave. But folks stayed, agreeing to the terrms that they then aren’t following. So ATT is merely enforcing the deal made. You can’t leave scot free with that.

  • CharliK

    The whole Verizon thing is a bit moot since the iPhone doesn’t support 4g

  • Bstecke

    This whole tethering thing is bullshit. Unlimited is unlimited, what does it matter how one chooses to use it?

  • Dominekers

    Sorry, they only offer any form of DSL in limited areas. Grant you, AT&T’s service is so horrible where I live, I’m lucky to get a bar. Now if I head out to a less populated area about 17 minutes south of here, I’ll get about 4 bars. Although the BellSouth merging agreement declared they would offer high speed internet in the entire BellSouth region by the end of 2008, they have not met this. No DSL for me, and cable stops a 1/4 mile down the road with 42 more houses (good houses) in the neighborhood unserviced. This being the case, it is entirely unreasonable for AT&T to charge so much Federal Reserve notes for watered down data access, and they even have the audacity to charge more for tethering.

    When BellSouth owned the lines here, the technicians could put in request for which area to deploy DSL next. That ended after AT&T merger. So, I live in an area where the neighborhoods around have cable (with this neighborhood excluded for some strange reason) and the cellular service is very poor. Dial-up IS the only affordable option. Satellite is not affordable nor reliable. However, AT&T decides to charge more ($22.95/month) for dial-up than basic DSL Direct. Compliments to AT&T. Don’t know what I’d if that merger didn’t happen a few years ago.

  • Juan2X

    Typical ignorant mindless right wing response, voice of moron.

  • Aaa

    “The Zeitgeist Movement”

  • Anon.

    I got a similar message except it was saying that my “iPhone” required a data plan but didn’t have one. But I have the same LG Xenon that I bought from AT&T a couple of years ago now. This is the first problem with AT&T’s service that I have had and we still haven’t cleared this up with them yet. But now I’m going to be charged for a 2gb smartphone plan and I don’t even have a smartphone or use any data whatsoever. I have always kept my data features on my phone turned of because otherwise I would be charged a ridiculous about per KB. I’m not sure how AT&T arrived at the fact that I had an iPhone, because I don’t.

  • JonathanRWegner

    You poor suckers — in Aus tethering is standard. However … it’s about $100 – $120 for an unlimited data / call / sms plan. Conversely: $80 for a 2GB a month plan. So, you guys do have it much better off.

    You’ve got to give it to AT&T though, they could just kick all your butts for breach of contract, I believe they’re going about this in quite a reasonable fashion. I’d be interested to see what happens in the coming month when people get automatically placed on tethering plan, they removed themselves, continue to tether, etc … whether AT&T will then flip out and pursue legal action.

  • scott

    shit so fucked up! my home doesn’t have an internet so i use 95gb last month … it is time to GET verizon !

    AT&T – =3

  • e0l1c

    You got a point, there was an app in AppStore that was disguised as a flashlight app, but it had a secret easter egg mode which allowed it to tether. Unfortunately that just involves more lawyers and more legal bullsh1t…

  • e0l1c

    The app didn’t last long either. Too bad I couldn’t catch it

  • UltraFan305

    I’m packing my bags and taking the next bus to Sweden (because f*ck the TSA, I’m not flying anywhere)

  • Guest

    im glade they ding this then

  • nikster

    Things like this are symptoms of a completely dysfunctional cell phone market in the USA. There are two ways to deal with that – as the current situation does not serve the interest of the people:

    1) Regulate AT&T as a monopolist. Slap their wrists any time they do something like this.
    2) Hand out many more operating licenses for GSM networks (doesn’t the military sit on a chunk of spectrum?) and let the now-free market take care of it.

    To AT&T – I was just contemplating handing over another $100 for my pay go card. That’s not gonna happen now.

    Republicans: AT&T has the HIGHEST iPhone plan prices in the world, by a wide margin.

  • nikster

    Companies are allowed many things and overall it’s a good thing. The problem with AT&T is lack of competition. The government should step in and ENSURE there are at least 4 independent GSM providers. The others can start out as enforced MVNOs until they build out their own networks – but AT&T needs competition. Badly. Then all that crap would go away all on its own.

  • can you hear me now

    Dear AT&T.
    Thank you for making my decision extremely easy. I will be switching to Verizon when my contract with you expires.

    Looking forward to it.

  • scott

    ME TOOO

  • Anon

    The consumer is already paying for their allocation of GB usage per month, and there is no reason we should have to pay extra based on how me use it. If I sell you apples for a dollar each, should I be able to charge you two dollars each if you crush them and drink the juice instead? This shit is stupid.

  • phone-o-phobe

    New At&T Unlimited talk plan. HOWEVER, if you sing, or let someone else use your phone, AT&T will automatically sign you up for a “TETHERED-USER-PLAN” and/or “TETHERED-ARTIST-PLAN”, as appropriate. Please note AT&T a friendly rate structure for the “TETHERED-USER-PLAN”, as such, that if the “TETHERED-USER” is related to you , you “MAY” receive a discount …..

  • Wx

    I am on an unlimited data plan and hardly ever tether or use much data, but I want to switch to Verizon and get the Droid Bionic because I sincerely doubt AT&T’s LTE service will be available to me any time soon. Therefore I think I am going to download one of these tethering apps and use as much data as I can until I get this message from AT&T. I will let them make the change to my contract by not responding and then go into the store and wave this clause of my contract around:

    IF WE INCREASE THE PRICE OF ANY OF THE SERVICES TO WHICH YOU SUBSCRIBE [other stuff cut for length] YOU MAY TERMINATE THIS AGREEMENT WITHOUT PAYING AN EARLY TERMINATION FEE OR RETURNING OR PAYING FOR ANY PROMOTIONAL ITEMS

    I’d say no ETF + selling my iPhone 3gs on eBay will more than pay for my Droid Bionic with new 2 year contract. Yay!

  • squeal

    The data is paid for. It’s not “free”. They are trying to control how you use the data you’ve already paid for, and charge you again for it.

    The airwaves belong to the people. The government has decided to allow these huge telecoms to lease them for a pittance and build up oppressive monopolies. The rates they are charging us have nothing to do with the actual cost to them; they have more to do with our restricted options.

  • Joshvengence

    AT&T are a bunch of ass wholes. The phone bills are already expensive why should I pay more for tethering? I payed 300$ for the phone it has the technology to tether why should we have to pay more? And the customers who are paying for this have more money then brains. MY phone Ill do as I please!

  • Zachary Omanson

    And they are all mind numb, and not free to make they’re own decisions. Please moistpup, if you need your mom and dad to wipe your ass and keep it clean for you, please leave the USA out of it…and move out of your parents basement.

  • utahfuntimes

    PEOPLE ARE MISSING ONE OF THE KEY POINTS OF THE STORY…

    When people contact AT&T they are being told that streaming content such as netflix or pandora (or any other streaming content for that matter) is their definition of tethering. This is a load of S**T!

    Contracts with AT&T say absolutely nothing about restrictions on streaming, nor anything about Netflix or Pandora. What the contracts DO mention is tethering. This is why AT&T is trying to put their own spin on the definition of tethering… because tethering is mentioned in the contract and they are trying to use it as a means to get rid of unlimited data plans.

    It would be like the port authority being given a contractual agreement allowing them to charge a toll on a bridge for “Trucks” and then deciding to get around the contract by telling people “your vehicle has four wheels, so by our definition it is a truck… pay up.”

    I can put lipstick on a pig and try to call it a super model, but by true definition it is still a pig. AT&T sure has a set of balls trying to write their own definitions of “tethering.” Heck, since they are writing up our own definitions of tethering why stop there. Why don’t they just say tethering also means any phone call that is over 10 minutes long, downloading any file or app that is over 100mb, or using my iphone during peak hours.

  • Blackvortex691

    Tell us how it works out!

  • Mike H

    Just got one of these letters in the mail, and like everyone else I’m upset about the restrictions this puts on our” unlimited data” plans. Unlimited data? Sure! Oh, but if you actually start to use a considerable amount of your unlimited data we’re going to give you an ultimatum wherein either we will get more cash out of you and significantly cut down what we give to you in return, or you just stop using your unlimited data plan for what it was meant for since we didn’t think you’d ACTUALLY use all that data. We’re so nice to give you a great choice like that right?

    As soon as you want to do anything that takes one of these devices and enhances it to make it more useful and easy to use someone wants to charge you for it. It’s like the same thing with the iPad. Wanna stream some of your favorite TV shows from your home wifi network to you cool new iPad. Okay no problem! Oh, but you have to sign up for hulu plus or netflix because you’re watching it on your cool new iPad. “But I can watch these for free on my computer! Why do I have to pay now?”. Because its an iPad. And we like money.

    Sorry to get off topic, this issue just reminded me of that other one and I felt the need to share.

  • Mike H

    My unlimited plan will be dead and gone by the end of the year and I’ll be forced to switch into one of the new limited data plans anyway. Let me use what I’m paying for while I still can is what I say! Don’t call it unlimited if you’re not willing to allow the customer to use an unlimited amount of data.

  • Moonfly

    very helpful set of posts. thanks very much.

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About the author

Brian SweetBrian Sweet is a young 20-year old student who loves technology (PCs, Macs, iPhones) and auto racing. Brian also writes for JailbreakZone, and is the host of the This Week in iPhone podcast (not affiliated with TWiT). Follow Brian on Twitter (the quickest way to get in touch), or visit his website.

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