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AT&T ammends arbitration clause; do you get a free pass?

Zach Epstein
May 9th, 2009 at 1:08 PM

We’ve received a flurry of emails over the past few weeks questioning whether or not AT&T will let people out of contracts ETF-free due to substantial changes to its terms and conditions. First it was a series of changes to permissable data service usage and more recently AT&T has amended its arbitration clause to limit a customer’s right to sue, in theory at least. Common sense might suggest that changes these drastic would result in a window of opportunity, during which time customers may sever ties without a penalty, but since when has common sense applied to carriers? In short, no, these changes will not result in an ETF-free departure from AT&T. The CTIA’s current policy states that carriers will give customers an opportunity to cancel contracts without penalty in the event of material changes to the carrier’s TOS. How does AT&T define a “material change”? As recently ascertained in a conversation with Mark Siegel, Director of Media Relations at AT&T:

Under [AT&T’s] terms of service, there are only two situations in which we would allow you to terminate your agreement because of a change in TOS without having to pay the ETF: If we increase the price of the service, or if we materially decrease the geographical area in which your airtime rate applies.

So what can you do if you disagree with this position? Filing a complaint with the FCC is surely a good start but you certainly shouldn’t expect this policy to change during the lifetime of your current contract. The bottom line is we’re all at the mercy of our carriers — at least until enough class action suits are filed that it becomes cheaper for carriers to change their policies than continue to pay out settlements…

Zach Epstein

Zach Epstein has worked in and around ICT for more than 15 years, first in marketing and business development with two private telcos, then as a writer and editor covering business news, consumer electronics and telecommunications. Zach’s work has been quoted by countless top news publications in the US and around the world. He was also recently named one of the world's top-10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes, as well as one of Inc. Magazine's top-30 Internet of Things experts.

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