User sues AT&T over $5,000 Web bill

User incurred charge after exceeding 5GB monthly bandwidth cap

An Oklahoma woman is suing AT&T after the company allegedly billed her more than $5,000 for going over her monthly data cap.

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The suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for Western Oklahoma, claims that Billie Parks was misled by both AT&T and retailer Radio Shack when she purchased a netbook computer in December 2008. Essentially, the suit claims that Parks was able to purchase the computer from Radio Shack at a discounted price of $99.99 in exchange for signing a two-year AT&T DataConnect contract that would hook the device onto AT&T's network for $60 per month. However, the suit alleges that neither AT&T nor RadioShack gave Parks sufficient details about how much she would be charged for exceeding her monthly 5GB bandwidth cap.

Although AT&T's customer service summary clearly states that additional charges will apply to users who exceed their monthly bandwidth caps, the suit alleges that AT&T made it "impossible for the average consumer [to] determine what those additional charges would be" based on the information in the company's wireless service agreement. Because Parks didn't know how much money data overages would cost, the suit says she racked up a bill of more than $5,000 over the span of a month.

AT&T never mentions specific rates for data overages in its rate plan terms , but the company does say that it will notify users before imposing additional charges and that it will give users the right to terminate their service beforehand if they don't wish to pay the charges.

The company has also posted specific data overage rates for its DataConnect plans. According to AT&T's Web page detailing available data rate plans, users who pay $60 for their DataConnect services get a monthly 5GB bandwidth cap and are to pay $0.00048 per additional kilobyte of data they consume, or about $500 per every gigabyte over the cap. Thus, a user who consumed three times the amount of data allowed by the company's bandwidth cap would be charged about $5,000 extra per month.

But because neither AT&T nor Radio Shack explicitly spelled this out in their DataConnect customer service summary, the suit alleges that the companies' wireless service agreements were "deceptive, misleading and utterly incomprehensible to the average consumer." The suit asks the court to force AT&T to pay back all money billed as additional charges for bandwidth overages and to stop trying to collect other additional bandwidth overage charges.

An AT&T spokesman has told Web site Ars Technica that the company "goes to considerable lengths to inform consumers of the limits of these plans" and that the company displays "plan usage limits and overage rates on our collateral, [and] terms and conditions on att.com."

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