After Years Of Litigation, AT&T Customers Get A Measly $22 For Being Lied To Over 'Throttling'

from the what-accountability-doesn't-look-like dept

Way 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.

In late 2019 AT&T agreed to a $60 million settlement with the FTC without actually admitting any wrongdoing. Consumers who were lied to and ripped off for years nabbed somewhere around $12 each. Another, separate California class action recently came to a close with AT&T agreeing to a $12 million settlement. There too, consumers are expected to get somewhere around $10 to $11 each because they likely would have seen even less after a full trial:

"The new class-action settlement says that, on average, settlement-class members exceeded the throttling thresholds during 7.5 monthly billing periods. This means customers paid AT&T an average of $225 for unlimited data in months they were throttled. Despite that, plaintiffs concluded that the $10 or $11 settlement payments are a good deal compared to what they would likely get at trial."

Years of litigation, two major settlements, and $22 per consumer was the end result. Though lawyers wound up doing okay, grabbing their fair share of the $12 million:

"Here's how the numbers in the new settlement shake out. Of the $12 million, $462,000 is set aside for administrative costs and up to $3 million for attorneys' fees and expenses. The remainder would be distributed to the class, which is defined as California residents who bought unlimited mobile data from AT&T and exceeded the data usage threshold "for one or more monthly billing cycles such that the user would have been eligible for data usage slowing or deprioritization by AT&T in those billing cycles under AT&T's network management policies."

And this of course could have been worse had AT&T succeeded in flinging these folks toward binding arbitration, a system advertised as more effective than class actions despite being demonstrably even more lopsided and pathetic.

Wireless carriers have been advertising "unlimited" plans and then lying about their very real limits for the better part of fifteen years now. Many are still doing it and will continue to do it. Why? The penalty is always a tiny, tiny, fraction of the money earned by being misleading. The only real lesson here for AT&T is that stalling and litigation can easily blunt accountability for misleading or predatory business practices.

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Filed Under: class action, fcc, throttling, truth in advertising, unlimited
Companies: at&t


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  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 6:34am

    AT&T's Unlimited Plan!

    Unlimited Throttling!
    Unlimited Hidden Fees!
    Unlimited Customer Service Runarounds!
    Unlimited Deep Packet Inspection!

    And much more!

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

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 3 Feb 2021 @ 7:02am

    Crime doesn't pay but fraud sure does.

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

  • icon
    Flakbait (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 7:11am

    Throttles, throttles everywhere!

    I guess they figured out how to throttle settlement payouts, too.

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

  • icon
    Chris-Mouse (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 7:42am

    A class action lawsuit is a good means of getting a company to change it's behavior, but only the lawyers will ever get a big payout.

    Start with a penalty that won't bankrupt the company, subtract the legal fees, and then divide what's left by the number of people in the class. The result is always going to be way, way less than the amount needed to properly compensate for the damage the company did.

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

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 9:24am

    The trolls who blamed the firefighters for Verizon's bait-and-switch throttling scam should feel embarassed if they had the self-awareness.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 1:06pm

    And remember, however much they have been fined is an absolute pitence compared to what they gained. On top of which, how many deciding these cases tooj into account the amount that was paid to AT&T in subsidies and how much they were given in tax breaks! The company has gained hand over fist, paid out nothing other than what it was given in public funds and the people got back the price of a loaf of bread! Disgraceful!

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

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 3 Feb 2021 @ 1:22pm

    $22 ?

    Shouldn't the compensation have been "UNLIMITED"?

    Oh, wait.

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


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