Calif. court OKs suit against Nextel billing 'spam'

Millions at stake, but for whom?

A US consumer lobby group has won an appeal to sue Nextel over "text messages spam" sent to customers – three years ago.

Last week, a California Court of Appeal overturned a lower court decision to block legal action against the cellco (now called Sprint Nextel) over alleged unfair billing practices.

According to the Foundation for Taxpayers and Consumer Rights (FTCR), which is fighting the case, Nextel should refund maybe millions of dollars to customers who were mistakenly charged on 12 September - the day the cellco got its wires crossed over "phony text messages" sent out by mistake. On that day Nextel sent four texts to each customer, at up to 60c a pop.

To put this into perspective, customers were ripped off to the tune of $2.40 - max - each. In the scheme of things, this is not a great hurt to individual customers. But what really gets the FTCR's goat is Nextel's alleged response to the SNAFU, namely to refund only those customers who figured out they were charged for the messages and then called the company to claim a refund.

From the sound of it, customers who jumped through those hoops were few and far between. To uncover the gouging-by-text in the first place, one would have had to be a hyper-scrutinizing skinflint, or blessed with second sight. For in October 2003, Nextel stopped itemized billing and "unilaterally ceased providing itemization of all phone calls on its monthly bill. Customers "were told they would have to pay $2.50 per phone for the information," according to the FTCR. "The lack of an itemized bill makes it impossible to determine whether charges are accurate," it adds.

The FCTR, which has pursued Nextel since 2003, wants the company to change its billing practices.

Press release here. ®

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