Verizon Wireless Company has agreed to pay an estimated $90 million in refunds to 15 million subscribers and former subscribers who over the years have been charged for Internet access from their phones even in the absence of a data plan. The company agreed to the refunds, essentially a settlement, before the Federal Communications Commission filed nearly inevitable punitive charges.
Most users will receive refunds of $2 to $6, although some customers will get larger amounts, the Basking Ridge, N.J., company said in a statement. Current customers will receive credits on monthly bills. Former customers will get checks in the mail. Those receiving refunds will be notified this month and in November.
The refunds will total more than $90 million, according to a person familiar with the matter. It would be one of the largest refunds ever paid by a telecommunications provider. The Federal Communications Commission reportedly launched an investigation into the charges after a flood of complaints from angry customers, some of whom said they repeatedly told the company about the overcharges but kept getting hit with them anyway.
The issue was first raised by David Pogue, a technology columnist for the New York Times in November 2009. Several of the column’s readers had complained about $1.99 charges on the cellphone bill, when they had accidentally hit the arrow key that is programmed to connect to the Web. Even immediately canceling the action without downloading any data would result in the charge.
Customers who contacted the company about the charges said the service provider refused to reverse the charges or discouraged them from blocking the data service on their phone.
Verizon customers have relayed that Verizon has been less-than-forthcoming in their responses to complaints, often refusing to take the charges off customer bills, and attempting to talk consumers out of turning off any data service on their phones, as reported by the anonymous employee from Pogue’s blog.
Verizon replied with the usual indignant response that boils down to “Oops, we got caught.” Said Mary Coyne, deputy general counsel for Verizon Wireless: “Verizon Wireless values our customer relationships, and we always want to do the right thing for our customers. When we identify errors, we remedy them as quickly as possible. Our goal is to maintain our customers’ trust and ensure they receive the best experience possible.”