FAIR WARNING: HBO Max counts against your data plan now

You may have already read this over e-mail. AT&T has started informing customers that HBO Max usage will now count toward your data usage. Although the company has not said so yet, you can expect that AT&T TV and DIRECTV streaming will also be affected.

This means that if you don’t have an unlimited data plan, you will have to be a little more careful about your streaming habits. Although AT&T’s streaming properties are very efficient at only using the data they need to use, you could use up that 8GB/month plan pretty quickly if you’re a heavy user.

Why this is happening

Prior to 2017, the FCC had worked toward a definition of the “Open Internet.” They had planned to classify internet usage as an essential service. Their Open Internet order of 2015 largely prohibited any practice that would change the way internet traffic flowed. In this order, a company like AT&T which provides both content and internet services would be prohibited from prioritizing their content, or charging other content providers for priority access.

However, these rules were largely scrapped in the period from 2017 to 2020. The FCC is and always has been part of the Executive Branch. While they are independent, this wouldn’t be the first or last time that they fell in line with other Executive Branch priorities.

Almost instantly, the state of California sought to make their own rules. Leaning on a decades-old standard where California has been allowed to make its own rules as long as they are stricter than federal ones, they created their own law which was signed in 2018.

California argued that the FCC had given up their right to regulate the internet, which gave them the right to regulate under the tenth amendment to the Constitution. The US government disagreed.

The current administration withdrew their objection. Without it, the California law went forward. Recently a judge ordered that it may be enforced.

“But I don’t live in California!”

AT&T says that with the way the cellular network operates, it’s not possible to enforce one set of rules for California and one set of rules for everyone else. They also want you to know that this isn’t their fault. If you want to blame someone, blame those coastal cats over in the West.

The California law specifically stops any provider from giving any advantage to their own services compared to others. This means that AT&T can’t let HBO users go without using data unless they do something similar for every other streaming service. They’re not about to do that, so “Data Free TV” has to go.

There’s no word yet as to when T-Mobile will stop doing essentially the same thing with Netflix. They have been allowing users to stream Netflix for free for a while. The problem is, their justification for this has always been on somewhat shaky legal ground. It’s likely that California’s attorneys have already knocked at T-Mobile’s door.

Here’s the solution

Don’t worry about blowing your entire data plan on just a few hours of streaming. There’s a simple solution. Upgrade to an Unlimited Plan from AT&T and you’ll never have to worry about data surcharges ever again. If you’re ready to make the change, call us at 888-233-5834. We’ll get things started for you! Signal Connect is an AT&T Preferred Dealer and we are here to make your cellular dreams come true!

If it’s after East Coast business hours, fill out the form below. We’ll get back to you, usually within 24 hours.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 7,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.