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W. David Gardner
July 10, 2008
2 Min Read
A push by consumers and the FCC to pressure cell phone service providers to ease their early termination fee (EFT) policies gained more ground this week when Verizon Wireless agreed to pay $21 million to settle a lawsuit in California.
Verizon and other wireless carriers had stonewalled on the issue, but then last October AT&T broke ranks and began relaxing its termination fee rules. AT&T and Verizon Wireless, a partnership of Verizon Communications and Vodafone, are the two largest cell phone providers in the U.S.
Alan Plutzik, an attorney for Verizon Wireless and other service providers' customers, told the Associated Press that the settlement involved the recovery of cash, although he said details of the settlement still have to be worked out with Verizon and approved by a judge presiding over the litigation.
Last month, the FCC focused attention on the thorny problem of early termination fees as Commission Chairman Kevin Martin said he favored a nationwide resolution of termination fees. He also suggested that termination fees more accurately track the actual cost of phones given to consumers -- a $50 phone would call for a lower termination fee than a $250 phone, for instance. Verizon favors a national approach to the issue, echoing Martin who favors the prorating of fees and avoiding a patchwork of state lawsuits.
Verizon, which didn't admit any wrongdoing in the California action, said the settlement clears up various multiple claims, according to published reports.
In testimony before the FCC last month, Plutzik cited a case involving Sprint and said there is evidence that about 2 million Sprint subscribers paid or were charged early termination fees (EFTs) between July 1999 and March 2007.
"Extrapolating from that figure," Plutzik said, "the number of cell phone customers of all carriers in the country as a whole who paid or were charged an ETF may be as high as forty to fifty million people. And that does not even include the millions of Americans who did not pay and were charged an EFT but were forced to put up with bad service, overcharges or unfair treatment because they were unable or unwilling to incur an EFT."
A final decision hasn't been issued in California courts in the Sprint case. In June, T-Mobile announced it would prorate its EFT charges.
All major service providers have been reviewing and revising their EFT policies in recent months.
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