AT&T Threatens To Cut Off Phone Service For Guy Who Beat Them In Small Claims Court Over Throttling

from the playing-dirty dept

As you may have heard over the last couple months, AT&T has gone to war with customers who bought its “unlimited” data plans. While the company no longer offers such plans, existing users were grandfathered in. And they like those plans. AT&T, however, would prefer to move them over to tiered plans under which they’ll pay more. So it began throttling their connections. If they were using a fair amount of data (really not that much), it slowed their connection down to the point of being basically useless. This is a pure bait-and-switch tactic, where the company sold customers something that it then failed to deliver.

A guy named Matt Spaccarelli felt that this was a clear breach of contract and sued in small claims court… and won $850 ($85 is his monthly fee, and the judge felt that there were 10 months left on the contract that was violated… so, $850). Spaccarelli then also set up a website with all the details, so that others could file their own lawsuits. Apparently, AT&T is none too pleased about this and is playing hardball with the guy, threatening to cut off his phone service after determining that he used the phone to tether.

How nice, right? Beat AT&T in small claims court, and they’ll potentially cut off your phone service.

Separately, they’re trying to “settle” with him, but are pissed off that he’s been public about the settlement attempts so far, as the key thing in the mind of AT&T lawyers and execs is getting a gag order in place to stop others from going down the same path. Of course, there’s no requirement that Spaccarelli settle or agree to any gag order, and it sounds like he’s not planning to:

Spaccarelli has posted online the documents he used to argue his case and encourages other AT&T customers copy his suit. Legal settlements usually include non-disclosure agreements that would force Spaccarelli to take down the documents.

In its letter, AT&T asked Spaccarelli to be quiet about the settlement talks, including the fact that it offered to start them, another common stipulation. Spaccarelli said he was not interested in settling, and forwarded the letter to The Associated Press.

Good for him.

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Comments on “AT&T Threatens To Cut Off Phone Service For Guy Who Beat Them In Small Claims Court Over Throttling”

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Frankz (profile) says:

Re: Re:

here’s the AP article that says he admitted to tethering:

here’s an article on Consumerist:
that says:
“AT&T has reached out to Consumerist to clarify that the letter only threatens to terminate the customer’s service only if he signed the nondisclosure agreement and then violated the terms of that agreement. We have subsequently confirmed this with a source who has seen a copy of the letter.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I agree. Yes, AT&T has more lawyers, money, etc… but by the time they continue fighting it they might as well just pay the $850. $850 for one person is nothing, $850 * XXX number of people is a problem.

I’m surprised AT&T didn’t see this coming when they first offered ‘unlimited’ plans. Don’t they pay their lawyers enough for good advise, or did they just ignore the advise of their lawyers?

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That’s something that enrages me. I paid for the damn connection and if I use it on a damn computer I can’t be using it on the damn cell phone. And for fucks sake, I bought X mbits which mean I’m able to transfer Y Mb/s who the fuck cares if I’m torrenting on my cellphone or on my notebook and using it all to the maximum??

Tim (the mobile carrier) charges different prices if you connect via cellphone, USB modem or desk modem. Srsly? This has to stop, if you pay for a determined speed and/or amount of data you should be able to use that shit as your heart decides. The ISP has nothing to do with it.

Reminds me of when the tards in my ISP told me I can’t use a router to serve all my computers at home with my connection. My reply was pretty simple: O rly? Stop me from doing it then =) They never mentioned it again.

Matt Spaccarelli (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That is where you are wrong. AT&T is the only provider that works in my area. Also if we Meaning you and I make a contract that says I have permission to shoot you in the head anytime I want, what do you think will happen when I execute that contract? Will I go to jail for murder or will I get off by telling the judge I have a contract? I bet it’s to jail I go. Just because you write it doesn’t make it true. And if you go to my website and read the FCC document all 196 pages like I did you would see where AT&T is the one in violation. And the judge agreed!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

So you are saying someone FORCED you to have a cell phone? And don’t act like you didn’t break the contract too. I also have AT&T with the grandfathered unlimited plan, and they definitely do prohibit tethering in their contract…AT&T is definitely wrong for limiting your service, but you aren’t any saint either for knowingly violating a contract by tethering. So you can’t be mad at them, because they DO have a right to shut your service off since you violated that contract by tethering. Assuming it IS actually you of course…for all I know you are some troll pretending to be him for shits and giggles.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Tethering

Was the article written by an exec at AT&T??? Unless you show the source, your argument is invalid….You can use and HDMI adapter for the iPhone/iPad dock that attaches to an HDMI cable… tether that into a projector….And he was using Netflix, which is a CLIENT Hositing service to stream movies which AT&T claims to be Peer To Peer. Netflix Streams their data to clients. And as for tethering…..iPhone 4S can be used as a mobile HPSA+ hot spot which is the type of service Spaccarelli was paying for. watch the news interview…

Mr. Smarta** (profile) says:

Copyright claim

Looks like AT&T might now have a copyright claim to that letter he forwarded. If they were searching for any reason to cut off the guy’s service for actually having the audacity to win, they could easily use the ‘copyright’ card if the “this customer knocked the planets out of alignment in violation of our T.O.S.” argument doesn’t work. Perhaps they could even argue that the last name, Spaccarelli, is in violation of their cellular agreement. You’ll see that in the revised contracts now.

Any customer with the last name Spaccarelli or any other last name hereby allows AT&T to come over and shave his dog, change the temperature setting on his refrigerator, replace his laundry detergent with used motor oil… oh, and change their mobile plan whenever the hell we choose; thereby giving up any rights to defend themselves, any rights to file a lawsuit, any rights to anything other than breathe, and any rights to speak or hire an attorney.

Why do I have the feeling the AT&T contract is about to become about 8,000 pages longer?

Migzy says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

So?? Unless you are getting lower speeds than promised(which may also have to do with the connection between you and whatever servers you are connecting to, does it really matter if they are multiplexing or not?

As for HSPA, which is an improvement upon and was based on WCDMA, heavily involves multiplexing. That’s how it works.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Multiplexing?

I certainly hope they are multiplexing. The entire internet (and POTS network) is based on multiplexing. You thought you had your own private fiber to the Really Giant Internet Server (RGIS)?

Kidding aside, if you are not getting the service level that you paid for, stop paying. If you are getting what you paid for, who cares if your data is carried over multiplexed fiber or carrier pigeon?

anonymous coward (profile) says:

at&t: we’re still the phone company, and we never gave a rodent’s posterior about you, we only let you think so because we spent more money on advertising to let you think there might be an icecube’s chance in Dante’s 9th circle of the inferno that we may have a whisper-thin idea you existed only to fork over all your cash to us.

Violated (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I have done that one much before here in the UK when I lacked a broadband link.

I certainly broke many contract rules. Tethering denied but they don’t care. BitTorrent use banned but I was fair & did that during the night. Then they banned Yahoo Messenger but I worked around it. And last is that their “unlimited” plan gets increasingly restricted the more often you exceed 1GB which I avoided by switching between three SIMs for fully unlimited each month.

Well I don’t see how any service can not expect people to do tethering when with one laptop connection your Internet linked phone is now a wireless modem.

HumbleForeigner (profile) says:

I'm confused

I must admit to no small amount of confusion here. If I have paid my phone company for x amount of data traffic, and they have accepted my money, how can they have any say in how I use the data I have paid for? Is this some sort of uniquely American thing?

I have a mobile data plan with my phone company in New Zealand, and I can tether whatever I want to my phone with no issues or threats of extra charges, mainly because I HAVE PAID FOR IT. Why does the American public let the telco’s do this without calling them to account?

Jay (profile) says:

Re: I'm confused

The US doesn’t. The problem is that AT&T essentially owns the market on landlines, kills small businesses, and we’re left with four major choices for cell phones in the US.

So if you want actual good service, you’ll have to take your phone elsewhere. It kind of sucks but we need to fix that 2006 ruling that allows AT&T along with TWC not to share DSL lines.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re: I'm confused

amusingly, that sounds like it actually gives you one MORE choice than we have in NZ.

fortunately, in NZ the telecommunications industry is… heavily… regulated. this is mostly as a consequence of the process of privatizing the originally government owned telephone monopoly some years back. (it was originally part of the, then government run, post office. … as was one of the banks (also since privatized then bought up by and merged with an Australian bank). amusingly, the post office is, if memory serves, now a State Owned Enterprise, and a new, government owned, national bank, while still a separate entity to the best of my knowledge, generally shares premises with it, at least at a ‘customer interaction’ level.)

that aside, the cell phone companies (or at least two of them) still overcharge quite badly for some things, data usually being one of them.

but yeah, they charge enough for some services that they periodically get investigated over their prices (that aforementioned regulation, you see), but problem wise that’s pretty much it.

rukidding (profile) says:

Re: I'm confused

I am an AT&T mobile phone customer with the grandfathered unlimited data plan. The contract that I agreed to and signed expressly prohibits tethering unless I also have purchased the additional tethering plan for an exhorbinent price. I confirmed my agreement by signing the contract. Therefore, if I choose to tether my phone against the agreement in the contract then I am in violation of the contract. This is independent of whether or not AT&T is in violation of throttling my data when I exceed some periodic limit. I haven’t looked recently but I would imagine that the contract contains wording that allows them to do that too.

The thing that annoys me is that these limitations are in all of the mobile phone carriers’ contract, which means I can’t get away from it by changing carriers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I'm confused

The US Telco industry operates very differently in this regard than the industry does in the rest of the world. In the rest of the world companies compete for their customers and have to listen to them in order to get and keep their business. The laws that regulate the industry there are written to keep it that way.

In the US the laws that regulate the telco industry are largely written through lobbying efforts on the part of the telco conglomerates such that they can limit competition and maximize profits without regard for their customers interests.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I'm confused

If it’s in your contract that you are allowed to tether, that’s obviously why you don’t have a problem. Companies like AT&T though, actually do have it in their contract where you can’t tether. If someone bought AT&T’s service and still tethered every damn device into the internet on their phone to get away with not paying for it anyway, no sympathy from me. Don’t buy a service from a cell company if you don’t agree with the contract…plain and simple.

Violated (profile) says:

All wrong.

Well AT&T are all in the wrong here which has been validated in Court at some considerable expense to them.

Matt Spaccarelli is certainly in his rights to make public his victory and to encourage others to follow him. AT&T’s gagging order will certainly fail when they are the ones who broke the contract and now want to deny his free speech.

We can be certain that AT&T are none too pleased with these developments losing up to $850 each case. However to cut off his phone link would be very vindictive and may even result in another court case.

AT&T need to listen to what is said. They made a deal under contract and it is their lawful obligation to honour that deal stating “unlimited”. If they do not like it then do not renew the agreement at the end of the 12 months. If they want users to switch earlier than offer them a better deal.

It is however wrong for AT&T to cripple their expensive service just to force people to get back on their feet under another plan.

I am sorry to say AT&T that you have much pain due until you realise you did wrong and make amends. There is no other option here but to honour the contract.

Anonymous Coward says:


Since the payment he received was via the court order based on the court’s decision in the case (as opposed to an out of court settlement that was reached to settle it before a decision was reached), wouldn’t the details of the case be available via a FOIA request anyway? So requesting a gag order wouldn’t do anything except keep him from promoting it further. And once everyone knows about it and how to find it, what good would that do them?

patti condon (profile) says:

ATT just throttled my data : (

and won’t reverse it for 19 days – claims there is no way of reversing it, it’s all automatic in the system – that’s bull! We have 5 iphones, 3 with unlimited data, and pay hundreds a month to ATT and this how they treat their customers. My data in 13 days was 5.1 gigs, I got a notice this AM I’d be throttled, an hour later it was in fact throttled. The data reporting is behind the actual usage so by the time I got home it said I was up over 8.5 gigs. I obviously had something flipped on that hadn’t been in the past as I’ve never used this much data. I turned of all my data switches and explained to ATT this was an obvious mistake – look at my history – but Noooooo – nobody can turn it back up they claim.

Steve says:

AT&T and the weenies that are the doormats

It is too bad that all and I mean all of the people in this country are so slack jawed weak minded people. It is way past the time where we the people don’t band together as the brothers and sisters we all are and sincerely no BS and take all the stops out get each and every one of these friggin money grubbing monsters to go to their knees. It is way past time because we are all just so willing to bend over so they won’t disturb me. Everyone who could have a case should file it and take it to the max. For a-hole greedy companies like AT&T to the government. I don’t know about all of you but I’m way past tired feeding these beasts only to get screwed every friggin time!!!!!

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