The lawsuit could potentially derail the cellular carrier's attempt to subsidize netbooks to get customers to sign up for mobile data plans.
An Oklahoma woman has filed a lawsuit against AT&T and RadioShack after purchasing a netbook with a 3G data plan and receiving a $5,000 bill for exceeding her monthly data cap.
Last December, RadioShack offered a $99 Acer Aspire One netbook for customers willing to sign a two-year contract for AT&T's mobile broadband service. The 3G service offers access to the Internet on the go for about $60 a month, but there are additional charges for exceeding the 5 GB monthly limit.
Billie Parks, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of herself and others, said AT&T and Radio Shack are violating the state's consumer protection acts due to false, misleading, and inaccurate advertising of the data plan.
"Although the customer service summary informed plaintiff and other consumers that their first bill might be higher than expected because of a $36 activation fee, one month's service billed in advance, and prorated charges and fees for the month when the customers signed up, neither the plaintiff nor other consumers were informed, nor could they have reasonably discerned from the paperwork, that wireless Internet usage exceeding 5 GB per month would result in astronomical charges running into the thousands of dollars," the lawsuit said.
Radio Shack and the mobile operator did not respond to press inquiries regarding the lawsuit, but AT&T's terms of service addresses the data cap, as well as the overage fees. Rival carriers Sprint and Verizon Wireless have similar limits and overage fees for their EV-DO mobile broadband services.
"If you are on a data plan that does not include a monthly megabyte allowance and additional data usage rates, the parties agree that AT&T has the right to impose additional charges if you use more than 5 gigabytes in a month," AT&T's terms of service said.
If the lawsuit reaches class-action status, it could potentially derail an emerging business model, as wireless operators are eyeing consumer interest in subsidized netbooks and laptops with a mobile data plan. But these data caps are bound to become a larger issue as consumers increase their data and content usage on the go.
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