Wednesday, June 10, 2015

TracFone To Pay $40 Million in False Claims Settlemet

On Jan. 28, a settlement was reached in the FTC TracFone lawsuit, meaning TracFone Wireless Inc. will pay $40 million to their consumers to resolve claims that the company falsely promoted their “unlimited” data plans only to allegedly slash data transfer speeds when customers had exceeded certain data limits.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed this lawsuit against TracFone for allegedly misleading consumers about the exact nature of the advertised $45 per month TracFone unlimited data plans offered by various TracFone brands, which include Straight Talk, Net10, Simple Mobile, and Telcel America. According to the FTC TracFone lawsuit, the company would allow consumers to purchase the “unlimited” data plan, but later reduce or completely cut off the mobile data plan when a consumer exceeded fixed data limits during a 30 day period. This business practice is known as “throttling.”

The FTC TracFone lawsuit alleges that until 2013, consumers were unware of TracFone’s data “throttling” practice, but even that disclosure was hidden among TracFone fine print or even on the backside of a TracFone mobile phone’s packaging — places that made it unlikely a consumer would see the data throttling disclosure.

The FTC further alleges that TracFone and its participating brands have employed this data throttling practice since 2009 and would reportedly reduce a consumers mobile phone service anywhere from 60 to 90 percent. The data throttling usually began to occur when a TracFone customer used one to three gigabytes of data. If a customer used four or five gigabytes, the company would allegedly suspend the data services. When a consumer directly complained to TracFone about the throttling practice, they were finally warned about the consequences of “excessive data usage” by a TracFone prerecorded message.

This is not the first time the FTC has gone after a phone provider for unfair and misleading data plans. In October of last year, the FTC sued AT&T for similar alleged throttling data practices, which the company failed to properly disclose to its consumers. This case was later settled, with AT&T paying $105 million to consumers.

This FTC lawsuit is also not the first time TracFone has been sued for false advertising regarding its unlimited data plan. In 2013, a throttling class action lawsuit was filed against Wal-Mart and TracFone for falsely advertising Straight Talk cellphone plans as “unlimited,” when in fact the company would reduce or terminate an user’s mobile plan if they went over certain data limits. This TracFone class action lawsuit demonstrates the FTC’s claim that the company has been employing their data “throttling” strategy since 2009.

In the recent FTC TracFone lawsuit and subsequent refund agreement, the agency claims that there exists company internal documents demonstrating that the data throttling practices served no technical purpose, like reducing network data congestion; rather, TracFone employed throttling in order cut the cost of providing unlimited mobile data services.

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