AT&T will pay some of its customers a combined total of $14 million to settle a class action lawsuit claiming that the telecommunications company illegally charged wireless subscribers undisclosed fees for several years. The company agreed to the settlement amount in June, and the deadline for filing a claim is a little more than three weeks away.
Plaintiffs in the suit, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, argue AT&T failed to inform postpaid wireless customers they were being charged a monthly $1.99 administrative fee for each line. (Unlike, postpaid customers are billed after the fact based on usage.)
In an email to CNET, AT&T denied the allegations, adding that it "clearly and prominently" discloses all fees. The carrier agreed to the settlement, it said, "to avoid lengthy, expensive litigation."
Here's what you need to know about the AT&T case, including who's eligible for a payment, when the deadline to file is and how much you could get.
Want to find out about more class-action settlements? See if you qualify for payouts from T-Mobile's $350 million data-breach deal or Roundup weed killer's $45 million settlement.
What is AT&T accused of in the class-action lawsuit?
AT&T began charging postpaid customers a monthly administrative fee for each wireless line in May 2013.
In the suit, Vianu v. AT&T Mobility, plaintiffs Ian Vianu, Elizabeth Blum and Dominic Gutierrez allege the fee is really a way for AT&T to increase its basic rate "without having to advertise the higher prices."
The fee has been regularly raised -- it more than doubled in 2018 to $1.99 a month -- even though AT&T financial records allegedly show the company's administrative costs have actually been decreasing.
According to the complaint, mention of the fee is intentionally buried in bill statements "to [make] it likely customers will not notice it." It's also phrased to suggest that it's akin to a tax or regulatory fee, the suit reads, "when in fact it is simply a way for AT&T to advertise and promise lower rates than it actually charges."
Calling the practice a "bait-and-switch scheme," the plaintiffs maintain AT&T has "unfairly and improperly extracted hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains from California consumers."
Their complaint accuses the carrier of violating several California statutes regarding unfair, unlawful and fraudulent business practices, as well as "the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing."
Who is eligible for money from the AT&T settlement?
While all postpaid customers were charged the fees, only California residents have recourse due to the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, which protects against "false advertising, fraud, and other unfair business practices."
AT&T customers in California who were charged administrative fees on their postpaid wireless service plans between June 20, 2015, and June 16, 2022, can file a claim for a one-time cash payment.
It's not clear how many subscribers AT&T has in California, though it is the third-largest mobile carrier in the US, with more than 80 million postpaid customers across the country.
How much will eligible customers receive in the settlement?
Class members who successfully file a claim will receive an equal share of the net settlement, estimated to be $20. The final amount may be higher or lower depending on the number of claimants, as well as attorneys' fees.
Current AT&T subscribers would receive their refund via an automatic credit to their account, while former customers would get a check mailed to them.
The payments won't be a full reimbursement: According to AT&T records, the average customer has paid $180 in fees since 2015, The Verge reported, two years after the practice began.
How do I file a claim for payment from the AT&T settlement?
You'll be asked for your name, mailing and email addresses and AT&T Wireless phone number or account number. Claims must be submitted by Oct. 29, 2022.
Some class members received emails or postcards notifying them of the potential settlement with a Notice ID and Confirmation Code. If you received a notification, include the ID and code provided when you file. If you didn't receive a postcard or email -- or do not know where it is -- you can still file without them.
The deadline to opt out of the settlement and retain the right to pursue your own lawsuit was Sept. 29, 2022.
When will class members receive payment from the AT&T settlement?
Any compensation will be disbursed after the final approval hearing for the deal, scheduled for Nov. 3.