July 7, 2006 3:28 PM PDT

Cingular accused of duping ex-AT&T subscribers

A class action lawsuit charges that Cingular Wireless, the nation's largest carrier, deceived AT&T Wireless subscribers into paying extra fees and degraded their service after acquiring that company in 2004.

The 22-page suit (click for PDF), filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, was brought by two West Coast law firms and the Foundation for Consumer and Taxpayer Rights, a California-based advocacy group that said it has fielded numerous complaints related to the suit's allegations.

The complaints center on accusations that Cingular didn't live up to advertising campaigns promising that AT&T Wireless customers would "continue to enjoy the benefits of their current phones, rate plans and features, without any service interruption," after Cingular acquired AT&T Wireless.

The suit accuses Cingular of engaging in a "deliberate scheme" to degrade the service of those AT&T subscribers in order to command "significant additional charges" for improvements such as requiring the purchase of a new Cingular phone, payment of an $18 transfer fee, or entry into a contract that was "less favorable" than the subscriber's existing AT&T plan.

One of the seven plaintiffs named in the suit, Christine Aschero, said she was "very happy" until the merger occurred. "That's when all the trouble began," she said in a statement released by the Foundation for Consumer and Taxpayer Rights. "Dropped calls, my phone not ringing, I didn't get voice mails, and my phone would randomly go into 'emergency mode.'"

Those who chose not to make the switch had to deal with an increased number of dropped calls and poor or nonexistent reception--or pay a $175 penalty to leave their contracts early, the suit said.

Cingular dismissed the allegations in a statement released Friday afternoon, deeming the suit "completely without merit."

Joaquin Carbonell, the company's executive vice president and general counsel, said Cingular "has spent nearly $10 billion in integrating and improving its networks in the 21 months since the merger was completed, leading to a significantly improved customer experience and the fewest dropped calls of any national carrier."

He also issued a warning to the suit's filers, saying the company was separately "considering our options with respect to the false and misleading statements made to the media by the lawyer that brought this case."

It was unclear exactly which statements Carbonell was referring to. In an Associated Press story published Thursday, attorney Mike Withey was quoted as saying at a Seattle press conference, "Everyone who signed an AT&T contract had their service degraded."

The suit covers all AT&T Wireless customers as of Oct. 26, 2004, the date that Cingular acquired AT&T Wireless. It seeks a jury trial and treble or punitive damages for those covered by the claims.

Earlier this month, a California state appeals court upheld a $12.1 million fine against Cingular that had been ordered in 2004 by the California Public Utilities Commission. The PUC found that the wireless carrier had been signing up more customers than its network could handle and then forcing them to pay as much as $550 to cancel their service.

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66 comments

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Both T-Mobile and Verison are Better
If memory serves, even before the merger both Cingular and AT&T wireless had poor satisfaction ratings.

The two best are T-Mobile and Verison. (I have T-Mobile.)
Posted by john55440 (1020 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: Both T-Mobile and Verizon are Better
At least T-Mobile (currently) enables the Bluetooth Object
Exchange profiles in their phones - correct me if this has
changed - and doesn't try and screw you over for every last
photo you take by forcing you to send it over their network.

Other carriers aren't quite so "generous" in what they "allow" you
to do with your OWN camera photos.

I like T-Mobile. Unfortunately, their signal coverage just isn't
where I'd like it to be yet. If/when it gets there, I'll definately
consider them.

Charles R. Whealton
Chuck Whealton @ pleasedontspam.com
Posted by chuck_whealton (521 comments )
Link Flag
Both T-Mobile and Verison are Better
If memory serves, even before the merger both Cingular and AT&T wireless had poor satisfaction ratings.

The two best are T-Mobile and Verison. (I have T-Mobile.)
Posted by john55440 (1020 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: Both T-Mobile and Verizon are Better
At least T-Mobile (currently) enables the Bluetooth Object
Exchange profiles in their phones - correct me if this has
changed - and doesn't try and screw you over for every last
photo you take by forcing you to send it over their network.

Other carriers aren't quite so "generous" in what they "allow" you
to do with your OWN camera photos.

I like T-Mobile. Unfortunately, their signal coverage just isn't
where I'd like it to be yet. If/when it gets there, I'll definately
consider them.

Charles R. Whealton
Chuck Whealton @ pleasedontspam.com
Posted by chuck_whealton (521 comments )
Link Flag
What a load of crap
I'm sorry, but every argument they make is a big load of crap. The $18 fee was never a "transfer fee" - it was a upgrade processing fee that Cingular charges every customer, just like AT&T Wireless charged their customers $15 to upgrade their phone. Most wireless companies charge such fees. As far as the early termination fees, once a customer was migrated over to Cingular - if they cancelled within the 30 day return policy, they weren't charged a early termination fees, mainly due to technical limitations and the separation between the two customer care units. The "degradation" of service was not due to the merger, but actually a continuation of AT&T's movement to shove people off of the TDMA network, which they haven't built out since 1998 - nothing to do with the merger...they just happened to occur at the same time. The only arguments that could even come close to being supported: 1.Cingular requiring people to purchase new phones - though Cingular has always given people the option to use unlocked GSM phones purchased somewhere else. and 2. Requiring a move to a "less favorable" plan - which was unfavorable mainly due to the fact that towards the end of its life, ATTWS was giving away the farm trying to keep its customers from jumping ship and scuttling the merger.
Posted by kidboodah (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Do you have to have your own shovel...?
... Or did Cingular give you one when they hired you? You're
slinging quite a big load of crap yourself.

Yes At&t charged me $15. I upgraded to an expensive Bluetooth
GSM phone. Now tell me, what was Cingular's $18 upgrading
me to? I already had a GSM phone. Cingular wanted me to toss
it in the trash, buy another one just like it, and pay them
because it's an upgrade?
Not bloody likely!
The only reason my GSM phone would not work with Cingular's
network is that they refused to give me a sim card for it. They
said I had to buy another new phone, and sign a new contract,
and pay an $18 fee, and loose the great contract I already had.

As far as the 30 day cancellation loophole you mentioned, was
that posted on the website? Was that something that customer
service would point out to customers when they switched? No.
It was a little known loophole, and when I heard about it on
these forums, I called Cingular and asked if it was true. They
said it was not. I guess they were lying?

The degradation of service was obvious to me on my GSM
phone, and the whole TDMA argument is a red herring. AT&T
had switched most of it's customers over to GSM long before the
merger.
Cingular sold off some of the AT&T towers, and let the leases
run out on some towers that AT&T didn't own. On the ones they
still have, they are moving the control signal from 1900 MHz to
850MHz, which effects AT&T's mostly 1900 MHz network in a
bad way while strengthening Cingular's mostly 850 MHz
network. See? No TDMA involved.

As for AT&T selling the farm, I'm sure you are correct. If
Cingular thinks my contract is losing them money, they are free
to cancel it, and I'll get my service somewhere else. The thing is,
they won't cancel it, or hold up their end of it, but if I cancel it, it
will cost me $175.00
I didn't choose Cingular. They bought my contract. They have
no right to whine about it not being a good deal for them or
having to hold up their end of it.
Kid, I think your boodah has lost it's Mojo.


LampieTheClown
Posted by lampietheclown (73 comments )
Link Flag
What a load of crap
I'm sorry, but every argument they make is a big load of crap. The $18 fee was never a "transfer fee" - it was a upgrade processing fee that Cingular charges every customer, just like AT&T Wireless charged their customers $15 to upgrade their phone. Most wireless companies charge such fees. As far as the early termination fees, once a customer was migrated over to Cingular - if they cancelled within the 30 day return policy, they weren't charged a early termination fees, mainly due to technical limitations and the separation between the two customer care units. The "degradation" of service was not due to the merger, but actually a continuation of AT&T's movement to shove people off of the TDMA network, which they haven't built out since 1998 - nothing to do with the merger...they just happened to occur at the same time. The only arguments that could even come close to being supported: 1.Cingular requiring people to purchase new phones - though Cingular has always given people the option to use unlocked GSM phones purchased somewhere else. and 2. Requiring a move to a "less favorable" plan - which was unfavorable mainly due to the fact that towards the end of its life, ATTWS was giving away the farm trying to keep its customers from jumping ship and scuttling the merger.
Posted by kidboodah (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Do you have to have your own shovel...?
... Or did Cingular give you one when they hired you? You're
slinging quite a big load of crap yourself.

Yes At&t charged me $15. I upgraded to an expensive Bluetooth
GSM phone. Now tell me, what was Cingular's $18 upgrading
me to? I already had a GSM phone. Cingular wanted me to toss
it in the trash, buy another one just like it, and pay them
because it's an upgrade?
Not bloody likely!
The only reason my GSM phone would not work with Cingular's
network is that they refused to give me a sim card for it. They
said I had to buy another new phone, and sign a new contract,
and pay an $18 fee, and loose the great contract I already had.

As far as the 30 day cancellation loophole you mentioned, was
that posted on the website? Was that something that customer
service would point out to customers when they switched? No.
It was a little known loophole, and when I heard about it on
these forums, I called Cingular and asked if it was true. They
said it was not. I guess they were lying?

The degradation of service was obvious to me on my GSM
phone, and the whole TDMA argument is a red herring. AT&T
had switched most of it's customers over to GSM long before the
merger.
Cingular sold off some of the AT&T towers, and let the leases
run out on some towers that AT&T didn't own. On the ones they
still have, they are moving the control signal from 1900 MHz to
850MHz, which effects AT&T's mostly 1900 MHz network in a
bad way while strengthening Cingular's mostly 850 MHz
network. See? No TDMA involved.

As for AT&T selling the farm, I'm sure you are correct. If
Cingular thinks my contract is losing them money, they are free
to cancel it, and I'll get my service somewhere else. The thing is,
they won't cancel it, or hold up their end of it, but if I cancel it, it
will cost me $175.00
I didn't choose Cingular. They bought my contract. They have
no right to whine about it not being a good deal for them or
having to hold up their end of it.
Kid, I think your boodah has lost it's Mojo.


LampieTheClown
Posted by lampietheclown (73 comments )
Link Flag
What a load of...
I'm sorry, but every argument they make is a big load of crap. The $18 fee was never a "transfer fee" - it was a upgrade processing fee that Cingular charges every customer, just like AT&T Wireless charged their customers $15 to upgrade their phone. Most wireless companies charge such fees. As far as the early termination fees, once a customer was migrated over to Cingular - if they cancelled within the 30 day return policy, they weren't charged a early termination fees, mainly due to technical limitations and the separation between the two customer care units. The "degradation" of service was not due to the merger, but actually a continuation of AT&T's movement to shove people off of the TDMA network, which they haven't built out since 1998 - nothing to do with the merger...they just happened to occur at the same time. The only arguments that could even come close to being supported: 1.Cingular requiring people to purchase new phones - though Cingular has always given people the option to use unlocked GSM phones purchased somewhere else. and 2. Requiring a move to a "less favorable" plan - which was unfavorable mainly due to the fact that towards the end of its life, ATTWS was giving away the farm trying to keep its customers from jumping ship.
Posted by kidboodah (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Dude, you're sooooooooo wrong!
I had an ATT GSM phone, I had the same problems as they talk about in this article.

Everytime I called Cingular to try and fix it or maybe get credit for my 2 days without phone service, they would tell me the problem is due to the fact they are "merging networks", BUT miraculously the problem would go away if I switched to a Cingular plan, which was around $30 more a month than my plan with AT&T.

Whether or not ATTWS was giving away plans, when Cingular bought them they were still required to honor those contracts. In my opinion they did not and I personally felt like all they knew how to do was to shove the new "cingular plan" down your throat.

It's simple to me it looks like Cingular bought ATTWS to get rid of the competition and ultimatley jack up rates, which surpringly... they did. Hence I took my unlocked phone and went to T-Mobile.
Posted by LarryLo (164 comments )
Link Flag
What a load of...
I'm sorry, but every argument they make is a big load of crap. The $18 fee was never a "transfer fee" - it was a upgrade processing fee that Cingular charges every customer, just like AT&T Wireless charged their customers $15 to upgrade their phone. Most wireless companies charge such fees. As far as the early termination fees, once a customer was migrated over to Cingular - if they cancelled within the 30 day return policy, they weren't charged a early termination fees, mainly due to technical limitations and the separation between the two customer care units. The "degradation" of service was not due to the merger, but actually a continuation of AT&T's movement to shove people off of the TDMA network, which they haven't built out since 1998 - nothing to do with the merger...they just happened to occur at the same time. The only arguments that could even come close to being supported: 1.Cingular requiring people to purchase new phones - though Cingular has always given people the option to use unlocked GSM phones purchased somewhere else. and 2. Requiring a move to a "less favorable" plan - which was unfavorable mainly due to the fact that towards the end of its life, ATTWS was giving away the farm trying to keep its customers from jumping ship.
Posted by kidboodah (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Dude, you're sooooooooo wrong!
I had an ATT GSM phone, I had the same problems as they talk about in this article.

Everytime I called Cingular to try and fix it or maybe get credit for my 2 days without phone service, they would tell me the problem is due to the fact they are "merging networks", BUT miraculously the problem would go away if I switched to a Cingular plan, which was around $30 more a month than my plan with AT&T.

Whether or not ATTWS was giving away plans, when Cingular bought them they were still required to honor those contracts. In my opinion they did not and I personally felt like all they knew how to do was to shove the new "cingular plan" down your throat.

It's simple to me it looks like Cingular bought ATTWS to get rid of the competition and ultimatley jack up rates, which surpringly... they did. Hence I took my unlocked phone and went to T-Mobile.
Posted by LarryLo (164 comments )
Link Flag
I have to agree with the complaints in the story
I purchased an ATT Wireless cell phone with the pay as you go option for my teenager in August of 2004. It was amazingly inexpensive when you purchased the $100 card. It worked out to about 7 cents a minute. We still had 400 minutes left on the phone when Cingular took over. Our problems ran very parallel to what the story ran with one addition. Cingular terminated the $100 card for the pay as you go service. Now, the largest amount that you could purchase at one time was $50. The per minute cost for that was over 30 cents. All Cingular customer service reps would tell us the same thing. They claimed that no one was purchasing the $100 cards so they dropped them.
Posted by Michael Massey (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I have to agree with the complaints in the story
I purchased an ATT Wireless cell phone with the pay as you go option for my teenager in August of 2004. It was amazingly inexpensive when you purchased the $100 card. It worked out to about 7 cents a minute. We still had 400 minutes left on the phone when Cingular took over. Our problems ran very parallel to what the story ran with one addition. Cingular terminated the $100 card for the pay as you go service. Now, the largest amount that you could purchase at one time was $50. The per minute cost for that was over 30 cents. All Cingular customer service reps would tell us the same thing. They claimed that no one was purchasing the $100 cards so they dropped them.
Posted by Michael Massey (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Cingular/AT&T
I purchased a phone from AT&T right before the merger. The phone was obsolete just a few months later.

The other issue I have with all of this is you cannot just walk into any Cingular branded store and get service. My Blackberry died, and I went to my local Cingular store to replace it. They told me because I had an "AT&T account, I would have to go to a former AT&T store."
I went to that store, and I could not just replace my unit, I had to purchase a higher end model because mine would not work on the Cingular platform.
Posted by Callian (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Cingular/AT&T
I purchased a phone from AT&T right before the merger. The phone was obsolete just a few months later.

The other issue I have with all of this is you cannot just walk into any Cingular branded store and get service. My Blackberry died, and I went to my local Cingular store to replace it. They told me because I had an "AT&T account, I would have to go to a former AT&T store."
I went to that store, and I could not just replace my unit, I had to purchase a higher end model because mine would not work on the Cingular platform.
Posted by Callian (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Cingular / ATT Service
A long time user of ATT it was OK. Forced to switch to Cingular due to tower consolidation and service went south. And I live in Alabama and you can't get much further south. I agree with the article since it happened to me.

Go get em
Posted by wshepard (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree with what you said
I was an At&t custormer and about 1 month later my phone was having trouble getting a signal. I live in Tnn. So Ihad to switch over to cingular . I had to get a phone from them in order for me to have service.Thanks for letting me make a comment.
Posted by T bradle (2 comments )
Link Flag
Cingular / ATT Service
A long time user of ATT it was OK. Forced to switch to Cingular due to tower consolidation and service went south. And I live in Alabama and you can't get much further south. I agree with the article since it happened to me.

Go get em
Posted by wshepard (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree with what you said
I was an At&t custormer and about 1 month later my phone was having trouble getting a signal. I live in Tnn. So Ihad to switch over to cingular . I had to get a phone from them in order for me to have service.Thanks for letting me make a comment.
Posted by T bradle (2 comments )
Link Flag
It's True
I had a phone that was failing, so I needed a new one. They stopped selling them for AT&T. They wanted to charge per phone to switch to the "Cingular" network even though we were given no choice. That would have been almost $60 for my family phones! Its not like I was switching companies. It was an obvious they were forcing people to switch to more expensive plans and then making an extra $20 a phone from it.
Posted by erci0116 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's True
I had a phone that was failing, so I needed a new one. They stopped selling them for AT&T. They wanted to charge per phone to switch to the "Cingular" network even though we were given no choice. That would have been almost $60 for my family phones! Its not like I was switching companies. It was an obvious they were forcing people to switch to more expensive plans and then making an extra $20 a phone from it.
Posted by erci0116 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's True
I had a phone that was failing, so I needed a new one. They stopped selling them for AT&T. They wanted to charge per phone to switch to the "Cingular" network even though we were given no choice. That would have been almost $60 for my family phones! Its not like I was switching companies. It was an obvious they were forcing people to switch to more expensive plans and then making an extra $20 a phone from it.
Posted by erci0116 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Merger problems
The merger was done very poorly and Cingular clearly attempted to abandon the ATT customers. Since calling Cingular got you NO WHERE if you were still blue. I can however blame them for incenting people to migrate so that they could consolidate billing.

When you were told that Blue devices were not available that was a lie - They were still seling Blue devices to corporate accounst until a month or 2 ago

As far as comments about treatment at stores. You understand that the majority or Cingular stores are franchises. Meaning they just sell phones. Thats ALL. They are NOT Cingular employees. They dont make any money unless you buy a phone and a NEW rate plan. So since it costs money to keep the lights on and it costs money to pay the person you spoke to a $20 change fee isnt that bad. Also keep in mind that a different store might have different rates...
Thats the same for all retail cell phone sales
Posted by Silver_2000 (51 comments )
Link Flag
It's True
I had a phone that was failing, so I needed a new one. They stopped selling them for AT&T. They wanted to charge per phone to switch to the "Cingular" network even though we were given no choice. That would have been almost $60 for my family phones! Its not like I was switching companies. It was an obvious they were forcing people to switch to more expensive plans and then making an extra $20 a phone from it.
Posted by erci0116 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Merger problems
The merger was done very poorly and Cingular clearly attempted to abandon the ATT customers. Since calling Cingular got you NO WHERE if you were still blue. I can however blame them for incenting people to migrate so that they could consolidate billing.

When you were told that Blue devices were not available that was a lie - They were still seling Blue devices to corporate accounst until a month or 2 ago

As far as comments about treatment at stores. You understand that the majority or Cingular stores are franchises. Meaning they just sell phones. Thats ALL. They are NOT Cingular employees. They dont make any money unless you buy a phone and a NEW rate plan. So since it costs money to keep the lights on and it costs money to pay the person you spoke to a $20 change fee isnt that bad. Also keep in mind that a different store might have different rates...
Thats the same for all retail cell phone sales
Posted by Silver_2000 (51 comments )
Link Flag
net neutrality
This and other telcos don't want net neutrality?

Because they would never ever never do the same thing to
boardband as they have done to phone seervices!
Posted by nerantzis (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
net neutrality
This and other telcos don't want net neutrality?

Because they would never ever never do the same thing to
boardband as they have done to phone seervices!
Posted by nerantzis (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exact Situation
I had ATT for 4 or 5 years and traveled the contry never having a problem. Within months of the take over I started having issues where my phone would drop every call after about 2 minutes. I ordered a new phone but had the same problem. Switched to a completely different phone and still had problems. These happened while I was just sitting in my house! Ultimately I just switched to Verizon and have had no problems.
Posted by timgrubb (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exact Situation
I had ATT for 4 or 5 years and traveled the contry never having a problem. Within months of the take over I started having issues where my phone would drop every call after about 2 minutes. I ordered a new phone but had the same problem. Switched to a completely different phone and still had problems. These happened while I was just sitting in my house! Ultimately I just switched to Verizon and have had no problems.
Posted by timgrubb (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It is so true
I really liked AT&T, but after the merger I got so many dropped call or calls just not going thru. They split the ATT group into the Blue, and I believe Cingular customers were Red. They told me I would have to purchase a new phone and get a new contract with Cingular even though my contract was almost done with ATT and would have just gone to the month to month basis. The customer service was horrible and I stop being able to use my phone many places in Atlanta without dropping. When my contract was up I decided I had had enough and switched to Verizon. When I called to advise them I would be switching once my contract was done, the only response I got was ok. Guess with too MANY customer for their network to handle, they didn't even feel that had to make me think I was important. After a few years with AT&T this type of service completely shocked me.
Posted by lebeau32 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It is so true
I really liked AT&T, but after the merger I got so many dropped call or calls just not going thru. They split the ATT group into the Blue, and I believe Cingular customers were Red. They told me I would have to purchase a new phone and get a new contract with Cingular even though my contract was almost done with ATT and would have just gone to the month to month basis. The customer service was horrible and I stop being able to use my phone many places in Atlanta without dropping. When my contract was up I decided I had had enough and switched to Verizon. When I called to advise them I would be switching once my contract was done, the only response I got was ok. Guess with too MANY customer for their network to handle, they didn't even feel that had to make me think I was important. After a few years with AT&T this type of service completely shocked me.
Posted by lebeau32 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
include me in!
I had an awsome national plan with at&t for $30.

The tactics were amazing. My text messaging quit working. my voicemail indicator light quit working.

They said the only way to fix it was by getting a new Cingular sim card. Thus needing a new Cingular phone! Thus Changing my contract!

All they had to do was unlock my AT&T phone and give me the sim card if any of the BS was true.

Was unable to transfer my cell # also.
Posted by Scopip (76 comments )
Reply Link Flag
include me in!
I had an awsome national plan with at&t for $30.

The tactics were amazing. My text messaging quit working. my voicemail indicator light quit working.

They said the only way to fix it was by getting a new Cingular sim card. Thus needing a new Cingular phone! Thus Changing my contract!

All they had to do was unlock my AT&T phone and give me the sim card if any of the BS was true.

Was unable to transfer my cell # also.
Posted by Scopip (76 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hope they get nailed...
I got my first, and last, taste of Cingular after my wireless
company (was that Celllar One?) became part of them and next
thing I know, at contract renewal they're trying to charge extra
for voice mail. That was a number of years back now, but as a
consumer I don't forget.

So, at contract renewal, I dropped them.

They strike me as one of those companies that nickle and dime
their customers. With that in mind, hearing them accused of
this doesn't shock me, though I know they're innocent until
proven guilty.

Charles Whealton
Chuck Whealton @ pleasedontspam.com
Posted by chuck_whealton (521 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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