Customers shop at an AT&T store in Palo Alto, Calif....

Customers shop at an AT&T store in Palo Alto, Calif. The company has announced that it will test market home security and automation at stores in Atlanta and Dallas during the summer of 2012. Credit: AP, 2097

AT&T Inc. caved to complaints that it's placing unreasonable limits on the "unlimited data" plans it offers smartphone subscribers.

The cellphone company said Thursday that from now on, it will only slow down service for its "unlimited data" subscribers when they hit 3 gigabytes of usage within a billing cycle. Previously, the company had been throttling service when subscribers entered the heaviest 5 percent of data users for that month and that area.

There was no way for subscribers to find out ahead of time what the limit was. AT&T would send a warning by text message to people who approached the limit. The data throttling would then kick in a few days later. Thousands of subscribers complained about the policy online.

"Our unlimited plan customers have told us they want more clarity around how the program works and what they can expect," AT&T said in a statement.

An Associated Press story two weeks ago cited subscribers whose data service had been throttled at just over 2 gigabytes of data use. The story included others who had received warnings that throttling was imminent. The 2-gigabyte barrier was lower than AT&T's current "limited" plan provides. One person said his phone was practically useless for two weeks out the month because the data service was slowed so drastically.

AT&T doesn't sell the "unlimited data" plan any more, but subscribers have been allowed to keep it. The company charges $30 per month for the plan, the same amount it charges for 3 gigabytes of data on a new "tiered" or limited plan.

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