Back in the golden age of unlimited data, AT&T sold such plans to everybody, not just DIRECTV customers. While AT&T customers, for the most part, were left to believe that they had truly unlimited data available to them, they were quite surprised to find themselves being throttled to near-unusable, dial-up-esque speeds. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was not fond of the throttling, and took AT&T to court over the matter. The battle raged on until last month, when a decision by an appeals court gave AT&T immunity to punishment by the FTC on this. The FTC, as it turns out, is not taking that lying down.
Unlike the FCC, who is pursuing a fine for the throttling that would simply end up in the United States Treasury, the FTC is pushing for customers who had been throttled on unlimited plans to get refunds. While punishing AT&T for the practice is a primary goal of the FTC's efforts, chairwoman Edith Ramirez has said that stakes are a bit higher; a total loss here, letting AT&T get off without any sort of consequence, could seriously hurt the agency's ability to litigate and enforce relevant laws in similar cases in the future. The complication was that AT&T was considered a "common carrier" for voice service, which they argued gave them a status exempt from the FTC's jurisdiction. The FTC, meanwhile, argued that they could still go after AT&T for things that didn't fall under the business interest that had earned them the common carrier label in the first place.
The FTC plans to appeal the decision and go after AT&T anew by entering into an entirely new appeals process in front of the Ninth Circuit, the court that had declared AT&T immune before. Since common carriers have now been redefined to also include internet providers, the FTC has an uphill battle here, but is arguing that they should be allowed to execute oversight of entities whose status as a common carrier is either questionable or only part of their identity, and this case could be the deciding factor in whether they have that jurisdictional power going forward.