Why Superlatives Are a Bad Sell
Businesses that describe their products in superlatives are taking note of a March small-claims court ruling in Simi Valley, Calif. Matt Spaccarelli, an unemployed truck driver and student, sued cellular giant AT&T for slowing down the "unlimited" data plan for his iPhone, asking the court for $10,000 in damages. Although he was awarded a modest $850, he set a precedent that may make companies think twice before hyping their products.
Spaccarelli argued AT&T had no right to refer to itself as the "fastest" network after it began throttling the busiest of its 17 million smartphone accounts with -unlimited-data plans. The wireless carrier, which stopped offering all-you-can-use data plans in 2010, earlier this year put the brakes on users who consume more than 3 gigabytes per month--roughly the amount of data required to download two full-length movies to a cellphone. Users like Spaccarelli say the speed limits often kick in after they're only one third of the way to the 3GB limit.
"There's a spectrum crunch in our industry," says AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel, noting that data traffic on its wireless network doubled last year. …