Late last week, a swath of AT&T smartphone customers received text messages letting them know that a recent class action settlement may put some extra money in their pockets.
The settlement applies to AT&T customers who bought smartphones or mobile data services between November 1, 2005 and September 7, 2010. Users who were charged taxes, fees, or surcharges for internet access are eligible to receive a refund after March 2011, when the settlement is slated for final approval.
The lawsuit was filed as a nationwide class action, with one plaintiff representing each state, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. The complaint alleged that, while AT&T's customer agreement authorizes the company to charge customers for internet access -- as well as state and federal taxes applicable to the agreement -- the contract "does not permit AT&T to charge Plaintiffs for 'taxes' that are not due under law, including taxes for access to the internet."
Despite the agreement's terms, the suit said, AT&T imposed taxes on consumers' internet use in direct violation of a federal statute -- the Internet Tax Freedom Act -- that makes such taxes illegal.
Busy year for iPhone lawyers
The iPhone has been the subject of a good amount of litigation in just the past year alone. Earlier this month, a class action lawsuit filed in San Diego alleged that a subpar software upgrade turned the class members' iPhones into "vitrually useless iBricks."
In July, two class actions were filed over the disastrous antenna problem that has plagued the iPhone 4 since its summer rollout.
And, also in July, a class of consumers took to the courts to protest the exclusivity agreement between Apple and AT&T that keeps the iPhone out of Verizon, Sprint, and TMobile stores. That lawsuit might prove moot if Apple teams up with Verizon in the near future, a move that is increasingly widely expected.
According to a statement posted to AT&T's website, the parties to the tax suit disagree about "whether AT&T Mobility's charging of Internet Taxes was proper, and if it was improper, how much the plaintiffs would have been entitled to."
The settlement money could take a while to reach consumers; AT&T has to first request a refund from state governments, and then disburse the funds to class members.