AT&T is now facing a lawsuit for charging its postpaid customers more than what they knowingly commit to. Ars Technica has reported that the carrier has been sued by customers Ian Vianu and Irina Bukchin, and they want the lawsuit to have the class-action status.
Basically, AT&T markets a flat monthly rate for its wireless service plans but the actual fee charged also contains an additional amount that the carrier calls "Administrative Fee.” The consumers are not explicitly informed about this extra fee and given that it is listed in easy to miss spots in the bill, the chances are most of them aren’t even aware of it.
Same is the case for the users who receive their bills online, as the additional charges are not displayed unless they click on the two plus signs to see more details.
The complainants say that A&T lists the "Administrative Fee” in the "Surcharges & Fees" section, implying that it is somehow related to government costs that the carrier is obliged to pay. However, the fee doesn’t actually go to the government.
Based on the carrier’s own description, this fee is related to certain costs incurred when wireless telephone services are provided, such as interconnect charges, cell site rental charges, and maintenance. If this indeed is the case, the lawsuit says that the fee must be included in the rates advertised as any sensible consumer wouldn’t object to these prices as they are the basic costs of offering wireless service.
On top of that, AT&T has actually increased this fee thrice since it was first introduced. In 2013, it was $0.61 per month and now it is $1.99. The complainants argue that if these charges are actually related to the costs of providing service, they should have gone down, as the company’s financial statements suggest that interconnect charges and cell site rental charges have decreased.
It appears that the sketchy Administrative Fee allows AT&T to increase its revenue without notifying customers, who continue paying more than what they signed up. The telco's website says that the fee may change from time to time in response to changing costs.
The lawsuit, which was filed in US District Court for the Northern District of California, calls on AT&T to stop charging the Administrative Fee and misleading customers. The complaint further says that the carrier got away with hundreds of millions of dollars from California customers and is now seeking damages, restitution and legal costs for the plaintiff as well as for the members of the class.
As mentioned before, the lawsuit is seeking class-action status for all current and former Californian customers who were subjected to this fee. The suit says that California's Consumer Legal Remedies Act has been violated and AT&T cannot legally avoid the lawsuit. Other customers who believe themselves to be victims can also get in touch with the firm hired by the plaintiffs, Hattis Law.
Ars Technica reached out to AT&T regarding the matter and the carrier responded by saying that the lawsuit is wrong and the administrative fee is a standard fee which disclosed is to customers.