Thursday, March 27, 2008

Suit Attacks Class Action Ban on AT&T's Wireless Contract

Recently, a class action suit against AT&T was filed in the federal court in Washington state. This complaint wants to invalidate the class-action ban AT&T Mobility’s wireless contracts.

Mobile phone service providers usually place
class-action bans or waivers in their wireless contracts as a form of protection against legal action. However, these policies have been criticized by consumer rights groups and by subscribers. These policies have also not prevented angry and dissatisfied customers from filing suits and legal complaints against mobile phone carriers.

Harvey Rosenfield, a lawyer with the non-profit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights made a statement regarding the significance of this complaint. He explains that, “At stake here is the right of AT&T customers to get a fair hearing and obtain justice. If the court rules that AT&T and Cingular's customers cannot join together to sue these companies, then the companies will never be held accountable.”

According to the plaintiffs, that
Cingular Wireless promised regulators and the public that customers would continue to enjoy the same quality service when it merged with AT&T Wireless. Problems began to surface when Cingular allegedly degraded the quality of the AT&T network. It was alleged that this move was designed to force AT&T customers into moving to Cingular's network, paying an $18 upgrade fee, buying new phones and signing up for new two-year plans. To make matters worse, early termination fees of $150 or more were charged to dissatisfied consumers who wanted to move to a different Mobile phone service provider.

In response to this complaint, AT&T released statements regarding the way the handle consumer complaints and grievances. The company stated,

“We continue to believe that a consumer is better off pursuing a claim under our arbitration clause, rather than pursuing a class action. Arbitration is typically a fast, cost-effective, and pro-consumer way to address disputes, and AT&T's arbitration agreement is among the most consumer-friendly in the nation. “In fact a year and a half ago we changed our arbitration clause to make it even more consumer friendly. Our current arbitration clause calls for the company -- if it does not settle a consumer complaint and loses arbitration -- to pay the greater amount of either the arbitration or the state's statutory definition of a small claim (commonly $5,000). Also, if the consumer has used a lawyer in winning an arbitration case, the company would pay two times the lawyers fees. Finally, we pay the entire cost of the arbitration.”
This is certainly interesting. AT&T responded to the complaint when carriers facing class action suits decline any comment. I hope that this dispute will be resolved and end in a compromise that will be fair for both parties.

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