Why does my “no-limit” data plan seem to have a data limit?

After Gordon Howe purchased a DISH broadband service with no data limit, he was ecstatic and relieved. As a disabled veteran, Howe relies on the Veterans Health Care website, communicates regularly with his doctors and needs constant weather updates as he lives in a mountainous rural area.

Two weeks later, Howe discovered his data was “throttled,” a technique used by data carriers to limit bandwidth, producing agonizingly slow connection speeds. For Howe, the throttled level of data was of no use.

In our digital era, we depend on the Internet. For many of us, it’s a utility that offers speed, wireless connections, surfing, gaming and 24/7 customer support.

But according to Howe, Internet speed was a “privilege and a necessity.” Howe received quite the runaround from DISH’s customer service department. First, he was told he couldn’t get more data. Then he was told he could get more data when he called a third party, ACN.

Both ACN and DISH guaranteed over the phone that purchasing 7 gigabytes would offer faster online speed. So Howe’s only choice, he thought, was to upgrade.

Once again, the speed was slow. Then his service stopped working altogether. After speaking to yet another sales representative in DISH’s “president’s office,” Howe was offered a $20 reduction if he agreed to use only 6 gigabytes per month.

If you’re not a programmer or coder, what do gigabytes, megabytes and terabytes even mean? With so many computer and data services and plans, it’s important to read the fine print, read about competitors’ products and be knowledgeable before you purchase any product or service.

Related story:   Travelers need fast, free Internet connections -- why can't they get it?

Without money for an attorney, Howe decided to research and discovered our website and posted in our help forums. One of our advocates suggested asking DISH to produce Howe’s contract with his signature and to emphasize the fact that the representative sold him a “totally unlimited” plan, without informing him of a data cap, which led to a throttle.

Howe asked DISH to send the contract with his signature. He remembered signing a work order for a cable, dish and modem installation. He was shocked when he received the contract with his signature cut, copied and pasted into an additional early data term agreement for more than $100. Howe believed that forging someone’s signature is illegal.

Howe found and posted in our community forum. An advocate raised the question of whether signing off on installation terms signified agreement to all contract terms, adding that during order calls, you’re rarely asked to sign a contract.

Another suggestion was that Howe send a letter with the names, dates and times of the calls, and that he check his credit report for negatives and learn how to protect himself if DISH ended up billing for the termination fee.

Other forum members pointed out a current legal battle against Time Warner for this type of practice (offering no data limits but then throttling the customer’s speed).

Howe emailed DISH and was shocked when a case manager in the escalation department reviewed the sales call and discovered Howe was wrong. The salesperson did disclose the data cap, but asked if Howe streamed data or used gaming.

Related story:   Why is Dish punishing me with porn?

“I stream a lot of data, which doesn’t require much speed, but I definitely need unlimited data,” Howe said. The case manager disqualified the contract and waived the early termination fee, but not the outstanding balance. Howe’s nightmare ended, and he saved nearly $400. He felt vindicated. Problem solved.

Howe wrote a letter thanking Christopher Elliott and our team of advocates for their advice in the forum. He highlighted the fact that using our company contacts enabled him to advocate for himself.

What can we learn from Howe’s experience?

First, it’s important to keep a paper trail during any transaction. In our digital age, technology and data can be complex. But Google’s algorithms make it easy to search for anything. Had Howe done a simple search, he would have discovered the drawbacks of his service provider: It’s slower than DSL, fiber or cable, and there are time restrictions on data.

Second, we’re no longer victims. We have social media tools, such as Twitter and Facebook, to voice our opinions. Companies want positive reviews on Google, Yelp or Bing so they can maintain their reputations and consumer brand loyalty.

  • AJPeabody

    Good result. I do note that the company was able to find the recording of the key conversation when it supported their position. Have we ever had a company find a recording when it favored the customer?

  • Jenny Zopa

    DISH is a monstrously despicable company.

  • finance_tony

    “As a disabled veteran, Howe relies on the Veterans Health Care website,
    communicates regularly with his doctors and needs constant weather
    updates as he lives in a mountainous rural area.”

    Wow, a straight flush.

  • It does expose a situation that many don’t realize. People in rural areas are much more isolated than urban areas. They need the Internet more than urban dwellers. Ironically, service is usually significantly lower and slower than urban areas. Dish is popular because fiber etc simply isn’t available.

  • Ward Chartier

    If someone forged Howe’s signature, then a formal complaint to the state’s Attorney General is in order.

  • finance_tony

    Sounds like a good thing to take into consideration when deciding where to move.

  • Johng

    Hi AJ – but it favoured the customer as well – because although the call recorded the fact that they told him it was unlimited data the call recorded the customer saying;

    ““I stream a lot of data, which doesn’t require much speed, but I definitely need unlimited data,”

    So they cancelled the contract because he had been clear that he needed unlimited data.

  • Bill___A

    My wife and I use between 300 and 500 gigs of data in a month. However, the plan and infrastructure support it with no problem, and it is well within the parameters set by our ISP so we get no problems.

    However, if you are on satellite or wireless for internet, your expectations cannot be the same. You can’t be so much of a cord cutter or Netflix user. The internet is a limited resource in these cases. Satellite TV might be a better option for viewing movies, TV and weather. Voice might work for the doctor.

    If you have a water well and it runs dry because you watered the lawn a lot, you won’t have water to drink no matter how much you need it. Same for satellite internet. Take care of the essentials first. That’s just the way it is…

  • PsyGuy

    First, repeat after me “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS UNLIMITED DATA”. No matter what the advertising says somewhere in the contract of terms is language that essentially allows the company to change, modify, and institute limits at it’s discretion.
    Second, more important than keeping a paper trail, is to record your conversation on the phone.

  • PsyGuy

    We use about 4Tb a month.

  • PsyGuy

    They didn’t forget the signature, they captured the signature from one document and impose it on another. This is DISH, there is probably something they agreed to that states a copy of the signature is as valid as the original.

  • PsyGuy

    Most people even in Urban areas don’t have fiber. They have coax cable or old twisted paid that may have fiber somewhere in the transmission scheme, but it isn’t fiber end to end.

  • PsyGuy

    They are also the only option for many rural residents.

  • But in many rural areas all you have is satellite. That’s not much of a choice. And satellite is slow because of the distance to the satellite.

  • Bill___A

    That’s a lot more than us. Our plan allows for 1 TB a month.

  • PsyGuy

    Our provider in Japan has no limit. Almost all of it is streaming.

  • PsyGuy

    I agree.

  • William Leeper

    That is correct, technically now, Dish uses an electronic signature capture when they do the install. Any signature on the paper document is simply an electronic signature box from the digital pad. In a way, this speeds the process up and makes the documents readable as their technicians used to have to fax the signed hard copies in for final processing, and faxed documents are notoriously unreadable.

Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.