Is Straight Talk Data Unlimited?

September 13, 2016 Jorge Wireless

Bargain hunters for no-contract cellphones are running across a lot of stories about Straight Talk. One, burning issue is on the minds of many consumers. It would be easy to lead you on, beat around the bush and otherwise string you along. But let’s cut to the chase.

Question: Is Straight Talk Data Unlimited?

Answer: No.

But let’s ask another question: Are most carriers’ unlimited data plans truly unlimited? Answer: No. That has to make you wonder why Straight Talk is getting so much attention.

This article’s title question is tearing up the Internet, that’s for sure. Forget about Michael Jackson. Dismiss all those conspiracy theories concerning Google’s pending world domination. Rule out those rumors about the royal family, too.

At least as far as cellphone users are concerned, all the buzz is centered on Straight Talk and their unlimited plan. But it goes deeper than a simple black-and-white answer. You have to drill down into the company’s terms of service, public relations statements and customer service representatives. And then there are all those recriminations, tons of them, gushing forth on blogs and forums. One of the biggest problems in addressing this issue is the murkiness of the World Wide Web itself.

The company and the plan

To make sure you know who you’re dealing with, Straight Talk is operated by TracFone. TracFone is the fifth largest mobile provider in the nation, and they claim to be the number one provider of no-contract service in the Americas. By their counts, the outfit serves 22 million subscribers in the U.S. alone. Figuring in Latin America, their numbers soar to 250 million.

Straight Talk offers several varieties of tiered discounts when you prepay for several months in advance. Customers also have different payment options in working month to month, etc. Essentially, the company offers two kinds of plans.

* All You Need Plan
This is their fixed ceiling package. For $30 per month, a customer gets 1,000 minutes of talk time, 1,000 text or multimedia messages and 30MB of data transfers. That certainly sounds like straight talk, pardon the pun, and no one’s arguing that.

* The Unlimited Plan
Here’s the bad boy that’s gained so much attention. This plan provides for unlimited talk minutes nationwide, unlimited text/picture messages and unlimited data. Straight Talk’s price for this service is $45, one of the lowest-priced packages going.

Anyone who was just born yesterday — and you run into them all the time — would likely assume the unlimited plan provides for truly unlimited data use. But you were born before yesterday and know better; you scrutinize their website really carefully for asterisks and fine print and any possible indication that there are limitations.

Try as you might, you won’t find any disclosures mentioned in Straight Talk’s descriptions of their plans. Straight Talk mentions nothing about limitations, exceptions or any kind of footnote mentioning unlimited data. The point is that there is no upfront information regarding caps or ceilings or “suggested use.”

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That lack of upfront disclosure is one of the reasons for all the alarm. And the web’s chock full of all kinds of rants and raves. There’s enough of it, in fact, that it makes you wonder how those supermarket tabloids dare to compete with the World Wide Web. In order to save on phone bill expenses you need to try all the options out there. But leave that topic to another article.

Say it ain’t so

Deciphering the web can be worse than separating fact from fiction in an Oliver Stone movie. You have to read between the lines, a lot. You have to dig, and use your best common sense, and dig some more. And it doesn’t hurt if you stumble across some reputable sources.

The complaints are real. No one knows the numbers, but scores of Straight Talk customers learned about data limitations the hard way. Some received warnings, some had their data rate throttled back and others got cut off altogether.

The complaints have been heating up for awhile. They reached such a peak that PC Magazine ran an article last January titled, “How Straight Talk’s TOS Makes Most iPhone Users Criminals.” That got somebody’s attention at Straight Talk. The firm felt compelled to reply to the story, and PCMag.com complied the following week.

Straight Talk’s response is a reasonably stated account of what they offer, some rebuffs to misconceptions about the company’s services, and acknowledgement of reported problems with “unlimited data.” But you don’t have to be a lawyer to catch some gotchas in the article.

Straight Talk’s argument for restricting usage, ratcheting down data speeds and cutting off services comes down to their “Terms and Conditions of Service” statement. The kicker is that the link provided in the article only leads to the company’s homepage — you still have to look for it. Another kicker is that this document approaches 20,000 words and would take the average schnook more than an hour to read.

The biggest kicker of all is this: Straight Talk, like every firm, doesn’t want you to abuse their service — but unless they’re forthright about limitations, you’ll never know that line between use and abuse. Nowhere in their Terms of Service, and nowhere in their PC Mag response, does the company specify data thresholds.

You can only assume that Straight Talk’s big brother machinery busily analyzes service use and data consumption and aggregates the info and slices and dices it into service area averages. That would account for seemingly haphazard and inconsistent service interruptions that have so many customers in arms.

Where’s the beef?

In the end, Straight Talk’s “unlimited” plan can still be a bargain if it truly fits your usage. Here are the true limitations of their service, as well as it can be defined:

* Don’t exceed 2GB of data use per month and/or 100MB per day
* LTE service is not yet available for Straight Talk
* Apple’s Visual Voicemail won’t work on the Straight Talk network
* You do get unlimited talk time
* You do get unlimited messaging

In case it’s not obvious, certain uses of Straight Talk plans are considered abusive and don’t differ from other carriers. Such practices as automated, non-stop calls, tethering to other devices, non-stop streaming or downloading, etc. and commonplace no-no’s in the industry.

There is one last note to mention, and it’s an odd thing that approaches irony. Despite those thresholds and limitations, despite the lack of clarity and transparency, and even despite the back-and-forth articles, last March Straight Talk received a PC Mag Readers’ Choice Award. Depending on your data plan, you can download the article.

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