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Posted at 05:17 PM ET, 10/04/2011

Franken, Blumenthal bill would allow cell phone users to sue carriers


HTC myTouch 4G Slide smartphone from T-Mobile during a product review in San Francisco, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011. (Jeff Chiu - AP)
Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) on Tuesday introduced a bill that would ban wireless carriers from using contract clauses that strip users of rights to sue in court.

The senators said in a release that companies such as AT&T, Verizon and Sprint Nextel regularly include provisions in consumer cell phone contracts that require any complaints to be resolved in arbitration.

They said that leaves consumers with fewer ways to fight back.

“Smartphone users deserve their day in court for legitimate complaints against abuses,” such as hidden fees, Blumenthal said in a press release. “Consumers should have rights to access to appropriate avenues -- enforceable in court – for recourse in order to hold cell phone companies accountable for poor service or excessive fees.”

The senators’ proposed Consumer Mobile Fairness Act comes after the Supreme Court decision last August to uphold the use of the mandatory arbitration clause.

The wireless industry opposes the Blumenthal-Franken bill, saying arbitration is supported in the “well reasoned” decision by the Supreme Court.

The two lawmakers want consumers to be allowed to pursue “litigation when mediation and arbitration offer inadequate protection.”

Consumers are increasingly relying on cell phones instead of landline phones and computers to communicate. But sweeping changes in billing — such as the data caps and the end of unlimited fees — have created new confusion for users.

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed — but not acted on — a “bill shock” rule that would require carriers to notify consumers once they get close to monthly data, text and voice minutes. Last October, Verizon admitted to charging 15 million customers more than $50 million for data services they didn’t intend to use.

According to the Better Business Bureau, wireless companies have received the most or second-most consumer complaints compared to other industries every year since 2003, Blumenthal said.

Related:

Supreme Court says arbitration can ban class-action suits

Faster cell phones bring new wave of services, charges

Verizon to end unlimited data plans

By  |  05:17 PM ET, 10/04/2011

 
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