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.

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Companies: at&t

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Comments on “AT&T Gets A Tiny Wrist Slap For Another Bullshit Wireless Fee”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Who actually got punished here

From what gather after skimming through the linked article… It seems the settlement is only for CA residents and ATT gets to keep charging the fee anyway.

I really do not sees this as a win for the customers either as existing customers will see a one time credit on their bill and ex customers might eventually see a check depending on how hard ATT tries to find them.

Dan Neely (profile) says:


Even limited to California the settlement amount is far too small to give all the ripped off customers a $15-29 refund. Assuming ATT has the same market share in CA as they do nation wide, they’ve got nearly 10M post paid customers in the state.

My guess is that this settlement is going to be binding on anyone who doesn’t opt out, but require an explicit opt in to get a share of the payout. Then when almost everyone ends up filing a claim, ATT and the Lawyers who filed the suite will go back to the court and convince it to let them do something with the money because printing and mailing checks would consume the entire value of the settlement before putting a penny of value on the check itself.

Anonymous Coward says:

and, of course, AT&T were told that these fees have to stop! yeah, right! none of these companies do anything they are told by the courts nor do they uphold or adhere to the law. they do whatever the hell the damn well please! why? because too many politicians are getting under the table ‘campaign contributions’ from them so nothing ever changes!!

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