US communication provider AT&T has offered to settle a class action lawsuit over disputed billing by AT&T Mobility, a business which AT&T bought in 2004. The class action lawsuit covers charges that were not authorized or understood by customers, and claims that AT&T Mobility violated consumer protection laws. Disputed charges cover a variety of services, some of which date back to 1999. There were four types of contentious charges made: for data services; for international services; a ‘universal connectivity charge’; and for phone calls charged in a billing period after the call was made. However, after 10 years the settlement offered is relatively small: between USD7 and USD10 for each type of disputed service, so that if a customer was disputing all four types of charge they would receive a total of USD33 to drop their legal claim.
After 10 years, I am sure AT&T would like to see an end to this dispute and avoid dragging this out in court. The business does not admit any wrongdoing, but whether it did wrong or not, the moral of the story is clear: if customers do not understand their bill or think the charges are unfair, they persist in pursuing and punishing their provider. 10 years is not a short time in the memory of a customer, even when the dispute is worth only 10 dollars. Of course, customers normally show their unhappiness by doing something less measurable but more damaging to the long-term prospects of the provider – by churning and never coming back.