AT&T Gets Yet Another Pathetic Wrist Slap After Making Millions From Shitty Fees

from the go-fuck-yourself-surcharge 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. That lawsuit (Vianu v. AT&T Mobility) was quietly settled in May for $14 million, netting each impacted user a one-time payment of between $15 and $29. That will be credited back to your account, so there’s no opportunity to use it for anything other than AT&T service.

The Verge’s Sean Hollister notes that a Judge tentatively approved the settlement in June and AT&T is now getting ready to refund users a tiny fraction of the money that was taken from them:

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 just what we do here in America. We pay billions upon billions in predatory, completely nonsensical fees charged by companies that rarely see any accountability for fraud. And when they are “held accountable,” it usually involves a settlement far smaller than the total money stolen from U.S. consumers, incentivizing the telecom, bank, airline, or hotel industries to do the same thing all over again.

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Companies: at&t

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Comments on “AT&T Gets Yet Another Pathetic Wrist Slap After Making Millions From Shitty Fees”

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22 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Techdirt on social media companies: “It’s their company, they can do what they want. Didn’t you read the tos? That’s on you. Good luck, sucker.”

Techdirt on any other company: “So what if the charge shows up on your bill and you have the chance to choose another company? How dare they!? Those rotten companies should be put out of business!”

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re:

As I so often have to point out, moderation is something a company can do (its legal). I often than highlight that different articles on moderation address different issues, and I often frame most gestures to hypocrisy along the Can do (legal)/Should do (ethical/moral/Best for business) dichotomy. They are 2 different discussions, and how you discuss them change because of that.

In this case the charge of hipocrisy is worse. The current AT&T lawsuits hinge on the idea that AT&T did not have language in its contract (until recently) that authorized a below the line charge of this type. In these cases, its illegal. Straight up, not a speech issue so they arent on the same topic, and its an illegal and fraudulent practice. You have to be super vague to begin to relate the 2.

James says:

AT&T & Optimum chicanery

Whatever happened to the Consumer Protection Agency? Did Republicans succeed in burying it completely? Not surprising to see another wrist slap by a government agency to the industry they are supposed to be keeping honest. And now these same companies will be getting another handout to provide broadband service to homes courtesy of the taxpayer.

Anonymous Coward says:

isn’t it about time someone in government actually stopped being slave to these companies and did what they were elected to do, ie, sort this kind of shit out and help the people? how about getting ‘net neutrality’ back? Tom Wheeler managed to do it and it worked until that cunt Ajit Pai, under the banner of ‘i’ll do whatever you want me to do, Trump, as long as it helps the broadband companies and fucks up the public even further! the fact that they already take $millions every year to boost top managements pay and bonuses, is irrelevant! why dont this bunch of democrats get their asses into gear and repeal the repeal? as for Rocenworcel, what the hell good is she doing? sitting around, thumb up ass, brain in neutral, doing absolutely fuck all of any use! tosser!

Dave says:

Re:

isn’t it about time someone in government actually stopped being slave to these companies and did what they were elected to do, ie, sort this kind of shit out and help the people?

Big corporations have a “carrot and stick” attitude when working with governments. They are basically the schoolyard bully demanding a student either hand over their lunch money or get beaten up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A weak bandaid which would also backfire

The telecom companies would simply charge existing customers even more. Prospective customers who live under a regional monopoly or Morton’s fork oligopoly would be unable to purchase internet access.

Fixing the telecom industry requires a long-term, multi-faceted approach. Strong privacy laws which allow for statutory damages for breaches, mandating accurate house-by-house mapping of internet availability, restoration of the FCC’s authority to protect consumers from abuse, meaningful fines (and prison time for executives) which can’t be waved off as the cost of doing business, and updated competition law (as well as enforcement) with greater wariness toward market concentration.

Anonymous Coward says:

Good fed up with the AT&T ripoff. They just raised the prices, again. Switched to Consumer Cellular, which uses the AT&T network, and cut my bill more than in half.

I gave up on any of our government regulators actually doing anything useful years ago. Citizens United made it possible for big corps and the ultra-wealthy to purchase Congress, and Congress doles out the money. No sane bureaucrat would bite the hand that feeds him/her.

dickeyrat says:

Toward the end of 2015, AT&T moved to sever the nine-year service relationship we had shared, by suddenly, without warning, terminating my til-then-satisfactory 2G service (I do not watch movies, listen to music, walk the dog, wash the car or undress my neighbour’s ugly wife with my would-be $1500 “smart-phone”.) 36 or so hours later, I forged my current service with Verizon, although I can’t exactly say I’m “happy” with it. I just keep in mind that, in Amerika, satisfactory cellular/wireless service is purely mythical. Although I have received instructional e-mails regarding the Vianu case, I see here that I am SOL, since I am no longer an AT&T customer, and there apparently is no other provision to collect my due, beyond “credit” on my “AT&T account”. So I suppose its a few more bucks that AT&T can funnel to OANN and/or other far-right Fascist faves that the amoral company loves to ply with gratuitous funding. The sheer joy of that most certainly oozes from my pores!

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