SAN FRANCISCO – Cingular Wireless will refund $18.5 million to thousands of former California customers who were penalized for canceling their mobile phone service because they had trouble making and receiving calls. The settlement announced Thursday with the California Public Utilities Commission ends a lengthy battle revolving around Cingular’s treatment of dissatisfied subscribers from January 2000 through April 2002. About 115,000 unhappy customers who left Cingular during that time will receive average refund checks of $160 to cover the fees that they were charged for prematurely ending their contracts. The refunds include interest. Cingular expects to issue the refunds within 60 days, spokeswoman Lauren Garner said. An unknown number of other former customers who paid early termination fees to outside vendors who sold Cingular service will have to file claims that are reviewed by an independent claims administrator. Besides spelling out the size of the refunds, the truce upholds a $12.1 million fine that state regulators imposed on Cingular in September 2003. At that time, the regulators had ordered Cingular to issue refunds without specifying an amount. Regulators lashed out at Cingular after concluding the carrier didn’t give its subscribers an adequate chance to change their minds about a service that was frequently swamped with more calling traffic than it could handle. The traffic on Cingular’s mobile network nearly doubled to 3 million subscribers during that period, straining the system until the company completed extensive upgrades. Cingular, recently renamed AT&T Mobility, had been unsuccessfully fighting in court to overturn California’s regulatory ruling. The company had filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court shortly before deciding to settle. “While we have a strong case for appeal, it is time to move forward,” Cingular said in a statement. “Cingular’s business practices have changed significantly since the period in question, and the company is now the industry leader in customer-friendly initiatives.” Among other things, Cingular said it now offers all customers up to 30 days to return their phones and drop their service without penalty. That option wasn’t available in California during 2000, 2001 and the first part of 2002, according to state regulators. Back then, Cingular insisted on penalizing exasperated customers even though its management knew congestion problems were causing many calls to be blocked or dropped, according to company testimony cited in the case.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
Cingular Wireless to refund customers $18.5 million