Cingular coughs up $18.5 million in California

Cingular Wireless, now AT&T Mobility, will reimburse 115,000 former subscribers in California for early termination fees.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read
About 115,000 former Cingular Wireless customers in California will soon get refunds for cancellation fees they paid when terminating their service after they had trouble making and receiving calls.

The refunds are part of an $18.5 million settlement worked out between AT&T, which now owns Cingular, and the California Public Utilities Commission. The deal, which was announced Thursday, provides refunds to 115,000 customers who left Cingular between January 2000 and April 2002. The average refund check will be about $160 and covers fees that were charged for early cancellation of service, plus accrued interest.

Subscribers should get their refunds in about 60 days, the company said.

State regulators had already imposed a $12.1 million fine on Cingular in 2003. The latest agreement still requires Cingular to pay the fine.

Regulators have argued that Cingular didn't give subscribers enough time to initially evaluate its service. During the 2000 to 2002 time period, Cingular's network was overwhelmed with calls while the company was planning upgrades.

Cingular, which is now AT&T Mobility, has changed many of its policies over the last few years, and its network has been improved. Customers are able to return phones and terminate service within 30 days without a cancellation fee. Prospective customers can also access online a detailed street-level coverage mapping tool to determine if service is available in areas where they intend to use their Cingular phones. In addition, the company provides a personalized disclosure document for each new customer that includes an itemized estimate of the customer's first and ongoing bills.

"While we have a strong case for appeal, it is time to move forward," AT&T said in a statement. "Cingular's business practices have changed significantly since the period in question, and the company is now the industry leader in customer-friendly initiatives."