Sprint has announced that it will slow down data speeds for its most demanding smartphone customers beginning next month. The carrier is currently sending out text messages to subscribers alerting them of the change, which will only apply to areas dealing with network congestion. Anyone that falls within the top 5 percent of data users will start seeing throttled speeds the following month, though Sprint isn't getting specific about just how hard it'll be hitting the brakes. The company only says that affected customers can expect "slower-than-normal data speeds until the congestion has passed."

Sprint clearly isn't too fond of these data-hungry users; in a FAQ on its website, the carrier bluntly states that they "consume a disproportionate share of network resources and cause a negative user experience for the rest." Sprint says there's no clear marker for what will land you in the "top 5 percent" since it will be determined on a monthly basis. But in general, anyone using 5GB or more can expect to fall into the pool. Prepaid customers with Boost and Virgin Mobile USA will also be subject to reduced network performance, though those brands have long throttled customers once they pass a certain data threshold.

The move is likely to upset some people, but may prove a necessary step for Sprint to maintain a consistent experience for the majority of its users. The third-place US carrier has fallen behind its rivals in making network upgrades, though an oft-rumored T-Mobile US acquisition would help bolster its position. Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and T-Mobile all employ similar network management practices. Like T-Mobile, Sprint has prided itself on continuing to offer "unlimited" data plans to consumers, though the very real threat of throttling — even if it's only in congested areas — makes that offer a bit less impressive.