AT&T shows how to make a PR disaster even worse

Bid to make customer who won 'throttling' case shut up about AT&T settlement offer backfires

What's with these American smartphone owners getting all "small-claims courty" about contract violations and blabbing to the media just to make a beloved national carrier look bad? Don't they know they're supposed to take their reaming from corporate America silently and with a grateful smile, like good little Citizen/Consumers? Matthew Spaccarelli, an iPhone user and AT&T customer who recently won $850 in small-claims court over the wireless carrier reneging on its promise of unlimited data service, isn't following the script, much to AT&T's public embarrassment. Last year the company began "throttling" the accounts of the heaviest users among its 17 million smartphone customers who had signed up for unlimited data access. Spaccarelli, of Simi Valley, Calif., didn't care for the change and pursued a legal remedy. He won. But AT&T doesn't want it to rest there, for about 17 million obvious reasons. The company not only is appealing the judge's decision, it's both trying to settle with Spaccarelli and intimidate him. That's right, AT&T is playing both good cop and bad cop. AT&T's "stick" is that "Spaccarelli has admitted that he has used his iPhone to provide Internet access for other devices, a practice known as tethering, which violates AT&T's contract terms," the Associated Press reports. This is an outrage, of course, because only corporations are allowed to violate consumer contracts. It says so right in the Constitution! But this is what happens when you have activist judges who apparently are more at home at an OWS rally than a hall of justice! In fact, maybe Spaccarelli was emboldened by those why-don't-they-take-a-bath-and-get-a-job street protesters. From AP:

A law firm retained by AT&T threatened in a letter dated Friday to shut off Spaccarelli's phone service if he doesn't sit down to talk.

Spaccarelli has posted online the documents he used to argue his case and encourages other AT&T customers copy his suit. Legal settlements usually include non-disclosure agreements that would force Spaccarelli to take down the documents.

In its letter, AT&T asked Spaccarelli to be quiet about the settlement talks, including the fact that it offered to start them, another common stipulation. Spaccarelli said he was not interested in settling, and forwarded the letter to The Associated Press.

How WikiLeaks of him! There's an AP video below covering the Spaccarelli story that includes a woman trashing AT&T's service and claiming for the last few years she "couldn't even use the phone in my own home." First, if she read the fine print of her contract, she'd realize that using her smartphone in her own home is expressly forbidden! Second, you'll be hearing from AT&T's lawyers, sister.

Chris Nerney writes ITworld's Tech Business Today blog. Follow Chris on Twitter at @ChrisNerney. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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