AT&T has agreed to pay $700,000 in fines to settle an Federal Communications Commission (FCC) complaint that the carrier is overcharging many of its customers.
The complaint revolves around the carrier's 2009 switch from offering a la carte smartphone data option to only offering monthly data plans to new subscribers.
Under AT&T's grandfathering policy, customers who already had a pay-as-you-go plan were supposed to have the option to keep the same rate so long as they also kept using the same smartphone from before the 2009 shift.
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However, an FCC investigation found that AT&T had started switching customers over to monthly data plans without their knowledge when replacing their legacy smartphone with the same model under warranty or through insurance.
As a result, customers were charged as much as $25 or $30 per month regardless of their data usage when they should have still been eligible for per data rates.
Overcharging doesn't pay
"Today's action sends a clear signal that wireless carriers can't wrongfully charge consumers," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement.
"These strong FCC accountability measures will ensure customers are not over-charged. I am pleased that AT&T is taking the appropriate steps to resolve this issue."
AT&T agreed with the complaint, and is required to make a "voluntary contribution" of $700,000 to the U.S. Department of Treasury within the next 30 days.
The carrier will also implement a FCC compliance plan, which includes refunding and re-grandfathering affected subscribers, starting a new customer care training program, making additions to AT&T's customer notification policies and filing periodic progress reports to the FCC.
"Based on a review of our refund process, we believe a vast majority of those customers affected by the billing error have already been made whole," an AT&T spokesperson told CNET.
"But as part of the decree we'll be providing a bill-page notice to affected customers, offering refunds, and giving them the option to return to a data pay-per-use plan, or to have a data block applied to their phone."
The spokesperson added that less than 0.03 percent of its customers were wrongfully charged through the policy.
Even if it is for just a small number of subscribers, with wireless data rates ballooning through shared data plans it's crucial to check that no unwelcome charges are popping up on monthly bills.