AT&T to Pay $700,000 to Clear Data Charge Complaints

WASHINGTON – AT&T has agreed to pay $700,000 as part of a consent decree with the Federal Communications Commission to resolve complaints that it switched certain consumers to mandatory monthly wireless data plans even though they were grandfathered in under pay-as-you-go plans.

AT&T has agreed to refund excess charges paid by individual customers, which could be as much as $25 to $30 a month, depending on data use. The transfers began occurring in November 2009, shortly after AT&T required first-time smartphone subscribers or those who upgraded their phones to enroll in monthly data plans. Consumer complaints prompted the FCC to launch an investigation last year. 

AT&T smartphone customers who had pay-as-you-go data plans, or disabled network data, and kept their old phones, had the option of keeping their pay-as-you-go data plans when the company made monthly plans mandatory in September 2009. Some consumers who replaced these phones under warranty or insurance, or who moved to a new residence were switched to the monthly plans, even though AT&T had said the grandfathering policy would continue to apply in these situations, the FCC said.

Under the terms of the decree, AT&T has agreed to make a voluntary payment in the amount of $700,000 to the U.S. Department of Treasury and refunds to individual customers. AT&T has also agreed to an extensive compliance plan, which includes: Consumer notification, training of customer care representatives, and periodic compliance reports to the FCC. AT&T must also conduct additional searches of its records to identify improperly switched consumers and ensure appropriate refunds.