AT&T Says Being Misleading About 'Unlimited' Data Plans Was Ok, Because Reporters Told Consumers It Was Being Misleading

from the ill-communication dept

Back in 2014 the FTC sued AT&T for selling "unlimited" wireless data plans with very real and annoying limits. The lawsuit noted that, starting in 2011, AT&T began selling "unlimited" plans that actually throttled upwards of 90 percent of your downstream speeds after using just two or three gigabytes of data. AT&T spent years trying to wiggle out of the lawsuit via a variety of legal gymnastics, including at one point trying to claim that the very same net neutrality and FCC Title II rules AT&T was attempting to kill, prevented the FTC from holding it accountable.

Nearly a decade after the battle began, the company agreed last fall to a $60 million settlement with the FTC without actually admitting any wrongdoing. Though AT&T has also been attempting to tap dance around several other lawsuits over its not really "unlimited" data plans with varying success. A separate 2015 class action continues to stumble through the court system, and AT&T lawyers continue to engage in... creative efforts to derail it.

The California class action argues, among other things, that AT&T was being secretive when it downplayed the hidden restrictions on its unlimited data plans (which is correct). To try and disprove this claim, a recent AT&T filing (pdf), spotted by Stop The Cap, introduces a dozen media reports (including an old one by myself) critical of AT&T's efforts. The logic being that because news outlets were writing about how sleazy AT&T was being, customers couldn't possibly have been surprised by the restrictions on their "unlimited" data plans:

"One of the news articles cited in AT&T’s May 14 filing was written by former DSL Reports’ author Karl Bode, who has been roundly critical of AT&T’s data caps for over a decade. Ironically, AT&T’s defense team is arguing Bode’s report, “AT&T Wages Quiet War on Grandfathered Unlimited Users” offers proof AT&T was not keeping its speed throttling policy “secret,” as at least one plaintiff claimed. Bode suggested AT&T had engineered its speed throttling plan to push grandfathered unlimited data plan customers off the plan in favor of more profitable plans offering a specified data allowance and overlimit fees."

Nifty.

It's not just AT&T that has now spent the better part of the last fifteen years trying to tap dance around their misleading marketing related to unlimited data plans. Verizon had its wrist slapped by New York's Attorney General as early as 2007 for selling "unlimited" data plans with very real limits, and yet the company still to this day imposes all manner of restrictions on such plans. Verizon's most recent unlimited plans, for example, throttle you back to HD and ban 4K video entirely unless you pony up cash for a more expensive plan.

This is by and large acceptable provided Verizon buries its annoying unlimited data plan limits somewhere in its massive EULA.

Still, you'd think that after so many run ins with regulators and consumers, wireless carriers would simply stop using the word "unlimited" entirely, instead focusing on other metrics like speed or reliability. Instead, they keep engaging in the same behavior, AGs and the FTC keep doling out flimsy wrist slaps years after the fact, and telecom lawyers spend years tap dancing around anything even vaguely resembling accountability. And, thanks in large part to AT&T and Verizon lobbyists, we just lobotomized the one government agency custom built to handle these kinds of issues, while also killing net neutrality rules requiring greater transparency in mobile data plans. Good job, America!

Filed Under: 5g, misleading, truth in advertising, wireless
Companies: at&t


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  • icon
    Koby (profile), 18 Jun 2020 @ 11:08am

    Advatage

    Still, you'd think that after so many run ins with regulators and consumers, wireless carriers would simply stop using the word "unlimited" entirely, instead focusing on other metrics like speed or reliability.

    In other unrelated industries, commercial laws have been written describing what sales associates can and cannot say. The bottom line is that using certain language gets results, which translates to money. Companies that were more ethical and voluntarily chose not to use the problematic language were at a clear competitive disadvantage. Some companies were even willing to absorb some fines and penalties, justifying it as the cost of doing business for continuing to use problematic language. Until the fines add up to more than the benefit of using the deceptive marketing language, it will continue to be used.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 18 Jun 2020 @ 11:29am

    ATT: It's OK to be sleazy if people know we are sleazy.

    This is disgusting, and this is why this stuff keeps happening:

    AGs and the FTC keep doling out flimsy wrist slaps years after the fact, and telecom lawyers spend years tap dancing around anything even vaguely resembling accountability.

    And it will keep happening unless and until we get a lot more of this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Shufflepants (profile), 18 Jun 2020 @ 11:48am

    Maybe some one should try this next time they're accused of perjury.

    "How plead you to one count of perjury?"

    "Innocent, your honor."

    "On what grounds?"

    "Well, since the prosecutor told you I was lying, you knew I was lying. So, it wasn't really a secret was it. So, you knew what I really meant. That's not really deceiving the court and doesn't really count as perjury does it?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2020 @ 12:05pm

    If an honest person is told, repeatedly, that what he says is being misunderstood, he attempts to find a clearer way of expressing himself.

    Someone who doesn't do this is not just misleading, he is MALICIOUSLY misleading. I'd say, AT&T knew they were being misunderstood, that they did not change their wording is irrefutable proof that they MEANT to be misunderstood: in other words, nothing else in their brief could possibly justify their conduct.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 18 Jun 2020 @ 12:35pm

    Isnt it wonderful

    That to protest and get attention, you Make things happen. And people get upset, and the NEWS pays attention.
    To get a customer to BUY your product they make promises that they cant do. And then SCREW the consumer. All the way to installing Fake bills that are over estomated After you signed a contract at $19.99 per month, and in 90 days goes to $50-80, and Then add's EXTRA fee's that not even the Gov. can figure out.

    Our gov., Teddy Roosevelt, install a Phone tax in 1899(?) to pay for the Spanish American war, Which if you think about it was for the rich and the Corps that had phones at that time. Was, about 10 years ago, resended/dropped. But we have to understand something, Where was that $5 fee going? as the gov., had forgotten about it. And soon after, the Phone corps added another fee on top. And if you Complained about that $5, you could Only get back 2 years worth of it, out of 100+ years.

    This needs fixing.

    "Friedman introduced the theory in a 1970 essay for The New York Times titled "The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits". In it, he argued that a company has no social responsibility to the public or society; its only responsibility is to its shareholders."
    That is capitalism.

    Stocks WERE supposed to be for Short term use. Not forever, Not as a Long term Cheap interest Loan, and NOT to corps that took advantage of LLC.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/08/milton-friedman-shareholder-wrong/596545/
    &qu ot;The famed economist’s “shareholder theory” provides corporations with too much room to violate consumers’ rights and trust."

    we have taken the controls away.

    https://www.upcounsel.com/top-llc-companies
    "These are America's largest private companies, and in 2017, they made a combined revenue of $1.57 trillion and employed 4.7 million people."
    Thats 200 Firms that employ <2% of our nation.

    Stocks are supposed to be based on the Value of a corp. The Exaggerated value, is over 100 times the amount of money in the world. How? Who let this happen?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_position_of_the_United_States
    This is kinda scary.
    "The U.S. increased the ratio of public and private debt from 152% GDP in 1980 to peak at 296% GDP in 2008, before falling to 279% GDP by Q2 2011. "

    Why is this a problem? Because they are basing these numbers On the Public. NOT the corps that are creating the problems. Over inflating the economy for top wages, not even to pay off stock holders, is abit OFF, even for capitalism.
    I wonder why they dont consider Stocks as a DEBT. It seems they are considering it a Positive or Write off.
    AS AN LLC...they can.

    https://www.investopedia.com/terms/l/llc.asp#:~:text=A%20limited%20liability%20company%20(LLC)% 20is%20a%20business%20structure%20in,a%20partnership%20or%20sole%20proprietorship.
    "A limited liability company (LLC) is a business structure in the United States whereby the owners are not personally liable for the company's debts or liabilities. Limited liability companies are hybrid entities that combine the characteristics of a corporation with those of a partnership or sole proprietorship."

    Good luck and I know it gets convoluted, it was designed that way. Also if you can figure out How they get paid, without showing they are Paid by the LLC, you will figure out Mr. Trump.
    Its easy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Atkray (profile), 18 Jun 2020 @ 1:01pm

    This AT&T strategy of planting Karl here for years as a double agent just goes to show the lengths they will go to to avoid actually providing a decent service to customers.

    I wish I was surprised.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2020 @ 1:37pm

    This is by and large acceptable provided Verizon buries its annoying unlimited data plan limits somewhere in its massive EULA.

    Acceptable to/by whom? Verizon? The courts? Both?

    Me, I don't think so. The place for specific details of a data plan belong entirely in the document describing what the provider agrees to provide, and at what cost. If those details are placed within the licensing agreement, it is no longer so much a licensing agreement as a contract. Semantics, perhaps, but important ones (to me).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2020 @ 2:25pm

    Kinda makes you want to gift a similarly unlimited* oxygen plan to each of the AT&T big shots pushing that nonsense, huh?

    *unlimited oxigen only last for the first week of the billing cycle afterwards severe throttling will occur for the remainder of the billing cycle. Overage fees apply. In case of death the plan and and accompanying debt shall be transfered to their next of kin.

    As a free benefit they might even learn that the meaning of the word unlimited is both unchangeable and critically important (at least while their supply of oxigen lasts...)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2020 @ 5:48pm

    "This is what happens when you're mean to my big Daddy Pai," screeched Richard Bennett, spittle frothing from his quivering lip. "I hate you, Bode! I hate you with the ferocity of a thousand dying suns! Eeeeeeeee!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bergman (profile), 19 Jun 2020 @ 9:00pm

    By this logic...

    ...wouldn't it mean that Ponzi schemes aren't illegal anymore?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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