AT&T Gets A Tiny Wrist Slap For Another Bullshit Wireless Fee
from the rinse,-wash,-and-repeat dept
At some point U.S. regulators effectively declared that it was okay to rip off consumers with a dizzying array of bogus fees, letting companies falsely advertise one rate, then sock you with a bunch of additional surcharges when the bill comes due. That’s particularly true of the cable and broadband industry, which has saddled consumers with billions in fees for decades, with little real penalty.
Case in point: since 2013 or so, AT&T has been charging its wireless subscribers an “administrative fee.” AT&T openly admits this isn’t a government tax or surcharge; it’s just a completely bogus bit of nonsense AT&T says “helps cover a portion of costs to AT&T related to wireless service.” But that’s what your full bill is for. What it really does is allow AT&T to nickel-and-dime you beyond the advertised price.
With regulators completely AWOL (a common theme on this front) a class action lawsuit attempted to hold AT&T accountable. But that lawsuit (Vianu v. AT&T Mobility) was quietly settled last week for $14 million, netting each impacted user a one-time payment of between $15 and $29:
that’s only a fraction of what AT&T’s own records show it charged: $180 per customer on average since 2015, according to documents. The settlement “represents a refund of approximately 6-11 months of the average fees,” they read. Meanwhile, the lawyers are likely to get $3.5 million.
This is, of course, why this kind of behavior never changes. The closest AT&T gets to any meaningful penalty here is a payout that’s a small fraction of the money it earned from the sleazy behavior over nearly a decade. Class action lawyers get a new boat, consumers get a tiny credit, and U.S. regulators remain too afraid to challenge AT&T, a trusted intelligence gathering ally.
This was a rare case where AT&T wasn’t able to kill the lawsuit entirely. And this, of course, was a class action lawsuit, which are usually blocked by AT&T’s fine print forcing binding arbitration, a process where the consumer usually winds up getting even less. Federal regulators, meanwhile, remain underfunded and underpowered (something AT&T lobbies routinely for), and around and around we go.