February 01, 2011, 9:57 AM — AT&T has "systematically" overcharged iPhone and iPad owners with capped data plans by inflating the amount of data they download and adding "phantom traffic," a lawsuit claimed last week.
AT&T said it would "vigorously" fight the suit.
The complaint, filed by Patrick Hendricks in federal court in California, claims that a "significant portion" of AT&T's $1.1 billion of wireless revenue gains last quarter came from the bogus charges and overbilling.
Citing evidence obtained by a consulting firm hired by Henricks' attorneys, the lawsuit said that AT&T regularly overstates incoming data between 7% and 14%, and in some cases by as much as 300%.
"AT&T's billing system for iPhone and iPad data transactions is like a rigged gas pump that charges for a full gallon when it pumps only nine-tenths of a gallon into your car's tank," the complaint read.
Henricks' suit also alleged that AT&T bills for nonexistent data transfers. During a 10-day stretch, the same consulting firm found that AT&T billed a new iPhone's account for approximately 2.2MB of data transfers, even though the smartphone had had all push notification and location services disabled, no e-mail account configured, and no active apps.
"This is like a rigged gas pump charging you when you never even pulled your car into the station," the lawsuit stated.
Henricks uses AT&T's $15 data plan, which allows him to consume 200MB of data monthly, but requires him to pay an additional $15 for each additional 200MB over the standard allowance.
That plan is one of two -- the other is a $25 deal that allows 2GB of data per month -- that AT&T debuted in June 2010 when it dumped the three-year-old $30 unlimited data plan . AT&T let existing iPhone customers retain the unlimited plan, but required new iPhone customers, and all but the earliest 3G iPad owners, to sign up with one of the capped plans.
Hendricks said he was charged a $15 overage fee last fall when his data usage was 223MB, or 11% more than the plan's limit.