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A New Front Opens on Wireless Billing Wars: Customer Lawsuits

Wireless billing has never been a straightforward affair, at least from the perspective of the consumer: the widespread perception is that there is too much wiggle room for the carrier to deliver a surprisingly high bill and not enough guidance from the carrier on how to prevent it. Indeed the wireless community has been fighting to keep regulators from implementing mandatory notices when a customers nears her data limit for the month. One sign that these tensions will get even uglier - and perhaps promote a backlash by consumers over unwelcome mobile content such as ads - is a federal suit filed on behalf of plaintiff Patrick Hendricks, who alleges that AT&T is "systematically" overbilling iPhone and iPad users for data.

"AT&T's bills systematically overstate the amount of data used on each data transaction involving an iPhone or iPad account," according to the suit (via Electronista). It is akin to a rigged gas pump that "charges for a full gallon when it pumps only nine-tenths of a gallon into your car's tank," the complaint says. Electronista reports that Hendricks’ lawyer has conducted a two-month study and found that web traffic was typically overstated by 7 to 14%, and potentially in excess of 300%. The overages were reportedly too slight for a user to notice - a 50KB website for example, might be billed as 53.5KB, the study found.

The consulting firm also bought an iPhone device from an AT&T store and left it inactive for 10 days. It was subsequently billed for 2,292 KB of data in 35 transactions.

A Leg Up for Verizon-Android?

There are several ramifications with this suit, with much depending on whether it achieves class action status as it is seeking. For the record, AT&T denied the allegations to Electronista. The suit has the potential of tipping more users to Android devices, especially those serviced by Verizon. The most recent stats in this back-and-forth war favor Android. According to Strategy Analytics, Android software boosted its share of tablet computers almost 10-fold in the fourth quarter, narrowing the lead of Apple Inc.’s iPad (via Bloomberg).

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