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AT&T Buries ToS Changes In 2500-Page Guide 99

Posted by timothy
from the if-you-can't-play-nice dept.
JagsLive points out a story from the business section of the L.A. Times which begins: "Judging from the phone company's voluminous new online customer manual, if you have a problem with your bill, too bad: AT&T has sent customers an 8,000-word service agreement that, among other things, says people will be given 30-day notice of price increases only when 'commercially reasonable' and that you can't sue the company. Oh, and if you don't like AT&T's terms — providing you can make your way through the company's 2,500-page 'guidebook' — your only recourse is to cancel service."
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AT&T Buries ToS Changes In 2500-Page Guide

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  • lawyers (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    on your marks, get set.....
    • I don't use many minutes. I am tempted to cancel from evil AT&T and get a monthly phone that is real cheap and no contract. Any comments on whether I will get screwed ?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by JBMcB (73720)

        I use a T-Mobile burner. Minutes are a little pricey, but get cheaper after you invest $100. It works fine, I spend maybe $5/month, there are no recurring fees. It doesn't do internet, I don't text (It's $0.10/message) It's a pretty barebones phone, but I used to have a fancy unlocked linux phone that worked fine with the SIM.

      • by hazem (472289)

        You might check out Virgin Mobile. Inexpensive phones and a variety of plans... minute by minute or month-to-month... all without a contract. I've happily used them for about 4 years. The only hard part is picking one of their phones that don't make you look like you're trying to be a teenager... which is fine, I guess, if you're a teenager (I'm a couple decades past that...)

        The piggyback on Sprint's network, so they work pretty well wherever Sprint works.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by LordNimon (85072)
        I've never had any problem with Virgin Mobile. I bought a $50 phone, pay $5/month for cell phone service, never had any outages, and no contract either.
        • +1 for Virgin. I bought a $20 phone (which is now TEN), pay $5/month for cell service, get 75 supplemental minutes/month through their silly ad service, and no contract. It's great for the 17 of us in the world who aren't on our phones 40 hours a month.
      • I got a tracfone for the same reason, and it works great. One rate, although text messages do get pricey (each message sent/read = .3 minutes), and when my old phone took a swim I just called them and I think came out of it with more minutes on my new phone than I had in the first place. So no, I don't think you'll get screwed.
      • Net 10 (same company as tracfone) .10 cents a minute and .05 text messages. (compared to the .20 text messages I have through tmobile now)

        Net 10 usually sells phones on their website with 300 minutes for $20 (plus taxes and shipping, buy more save more) which works out to less than $.10 a minute. Then when you get low on minutes, order a new phone, call them and transfer your number and minutes to the new phone + another 300 minutes. Takes about 10 - 15 minutes. Minutes last 60 days, and when you

    • Well, I suppose only a lawyer could manage to stretch a mere 8,000 words over 2500 pages. And no, I didn't read TFA, since the summary was so nonsensical.
  • AT&T (Score:5, Funny)

    by Erie Ed (1254426) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @10:13AM (#25038463)
    Whats this...a major telephone company screw over it's customers...why that's unheard of.
    • Re:AT&T (Score:5, Insightful)

      by adpsimpson (956630) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @10:16AM (#25038507)

      Certainly in the UK, a contract which refuses legal recourse (ie "You can't take us to court") is illegal and, therefore, that clause is automatically null and void.

      On top of that, courts don't look too kindly on companies attempting to enforce illegal contractual clauses.

      Do Americans not have this same protection?

      • by Nutria (679911)

        Do Americans not have this same protection?

        Yes.

        Note, though, that "I agree not to sue you" is sometimes legal in the US, but I'm sure that in this case it would be found illegal.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by gentimjs (930934)

          Do Americans not have this same protection?

          No.

          Fixed it for you. Maybe 20 years ago we did, not so much these days.

          • Re:AT&T (Score:5, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:11AM (#25039343)
            Wow, not only are you wrong, but you chose to be wrong in, to paraphrase the Daily Show, the douchiest way possible.

            Illegal contracts are unenforcable. Period. End of story.

            Waivers are only legal if they meet certain conditions. They must be clear, they can only waive neglegence (IE: not intentional harm), they must be unambiguous and clear, they must be between two parties with equal bargaining power, and they can not be applied to essential services.

            It's entirely possible to argue that this clause is overly broad, between two parties with unequal bargaining power, and it for an essential service, thus making it null and void.
            • by gentimjs (930934)
              So enlighten us, when was the last time you heard about Joe Q. RepresentingHimselfInCourtCuzHesMiddleclass successfully winning a court case against megalocorp's army of high-priced lawyers? The current implementation of the US Legal system serves the purpose (in cases like this) of furthering economic interests, rarely does it actually uphold the criminal code with this kind of thing.
              • by DinDaddy (1168147)
                Since the type of clause in question is here is about the right to sue, rather than the right to win a lawsuit, that's a meaningless question. You may (albeit futilely) sue the phone company, and your case will likely NOT be dismissed based on a clause purporting to remove your right to sue. Whether you win or not is an entirely different matter.
              • Re:AT&T (Score:5, Informative)

                by just_another_sean (919159) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @12:20PM (#25040425) Homepage Journal

                Here you go:
                Little Guy vs. MegaCorp [groklaw.net]

                And who in this case is the MC? Oh, I see it's AT&T. Well what do you know.

                Douchiest indeed.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Grishnakh (216268)

                It's actually not unheard of for Joe Q. LittleGuy to sue MegaCorp and win. The problem is there's a fairly high barrier to entry: you have to retain a lawyer (or find one to work on contingency), then you have to go through months and even years of legal wrangling to prove your case. Is it worth it do go through all that trouble and expense because your phone company raised your rates, or is it easier to just deal with it, and go to another carrier when your contract expires? (Or just tell them to fuck o

            • by R2.0 (532027)

              "Waivers are only legal if they meet certain conditions. They must be clear, they can only waive neglegence (IE: not intentional harm), they must be unambiguous and clear, they must be between two parties with equal bargaining power, and they can not be applied to essential services."

              You forgot another category - statutorily protected activities. There are some rights you CANNOT waive, because there is state law stating that it is unwaiveable. And it can really be random. For instance, in the constructio

          • If I remember my business law correctly, it is legal for a contract to waive the right to sue in civil court in favor of binding arbitration. The arbitration process is similar to a court suit but the person bringing the suit has to foot the bill up front - around $10,000 USD is what we were told in class 10 years ago. This is a standard part of nearly all construction and new car sale contracts. IANAL, so I may definitely have some details wrong here, but that is the gist of it.
      • by SengirV (203400)

        This country is run by lawyers for the benefit of lawyers. So the answer is no. Of course, if a LAWYER sees the financial benefit of contesting the inclusion of such terms, then it will go to a class action lawsuit and said lawyers would rake in millions as the customers get a check for $0.15 each.

      • It is completely legal in the US to draft a contract that requires each party to submit to binding arbitration.

        There have been cases where such a term was found unconscionable because the expenses for the arbitration itself were substantially higher than the price of the product at issue (it was a Gateway PC in the case I remember). Still, a term about binding arbitration is generally considered pretty solid.

        American courts, just the same as English, don't look kindly on companies enforcing illegal contrac

        • by torkus (1133985)

          What I find funny is some companies not only have/had a binding arbitration contract clause, but state what jurisdiction you must sue^^^start binding arbitration in AND that if you DO choose to sue them you agree to pay them a 'penalty' of xyz dollars and then drop the case for binding arb.

          They may have changed it since but I remember reading that and it was pretty much when I stopped using PP. Also didn't help with their douchy poaching money from accounts or other practices...

      • Sue or Arbitration? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by OpenYourEyes (563714) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:35AM (#25039737)
        I haven't looked at the TOS in question, but its very very VERY common for there to be a clause stating, roughly, "Instead of suing us, you agree that we will settle all issues through arbitration." With the packed and underfunded court systems around the country, arbitration is often an attractive alternative to both sides (at least in theory).
        • by xigxag (167441)

          True but in addition many arbitration clauses also allow the aggrieved party to present its claim in the local Small Claims court if desired.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by OhHellWithIt (756826) *

        Certainly in the UK, a contract which refuses legal recourse (ie "You can't take us to court") is illegal and, therefore, that clause is automatically null and void.

        I haven't read The Fine ToS (I'm not an AT&T customer), but the trend in the U.S. for a number of years now is to put a binding arbitration clause in the contract. There are arbitration firms that provide a venue in lieu of the courts to settle disputes between parties. The effect, as I understand it, is to shift more of the cost of initiat

      • by Jaazaniah (894694)
        The others have answered well to this question, but I would add that the protection is not written in. Dubbing clauses unconscionable was used in the last AT&T case I recall (linked above), but that did not mean that the clause itself was illegal. And, unfortunately, the rest of the business world in the US takes that fact and writes all their contracts with it. I haven't seen an agreement that doesn't defer to arbitration as the sole option in at least 5 years. They basically write in that there is no
    • AT&T or Verizon? It's a hard pick...
      Also From TFA:

      "You also agree to pay for all charges for services provided under this agreement even if such calls were not authorized by you."

      So you have no ability to dispute any charges on your bill? The problem here is this: I've never been an AT&T customer, but I am a wireless customer of Verizon, and I haven't received a single bill from verizon that has been correct yet. I have the very strong suspicion that they either expect most people not to notice billing errors, or hope that people give up disputes, because it'd take too much time.

      I regularly make phone calls to verizon to fix

      • by Shakrai (717556)

        Why the hell can a phone company get away with that (charging you for unauthorized calls)? My credit card has given me protection against unauthorized charges as long as credit cards have been around....

        • by torkus (1133985)

          That's because federal laws were passed requiring that protection. Since then, credit cards have reduced most liability from the mandated $50max to zero as part of competing with other CC companies.

          They can get away with it because 1) they're huge 2) they have lots of lawyers 3) they generally don't actually enforce that clause 4) no one normally reads these fucking things (who can at 2500 pages?) and 5) no one has made a point to stand up to big business and say 'fuck off' - people are generally lazy

          • by KGIII (973947) *

            It probably isn't illegal and I'm not a huge fan of big government or more laws but a contract that is that long for phone service should see if it passes the straight face test and, if it doesn't, it should be rendered null and void entirely. That's just my opinion though.

  • Coming from AT&T I can't say I am to suprised. Only that maybe comcast didn't beat them to the punch.

    They know that no one will sift through that 2500 page pile of garbage just to find that information.

  • Here is my brick. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shikaku (1129753) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @10:15AM (#25038491)

    Upon receipt of said brick through your building, you accept, without any consent to agreement:

    1. That the brick thrower shall not be held accountable for any damage, whether
    accidental or purposeful, or any other damage caused at any point in time, espec
    ially before the brick was thrown.

    2. That you will only use your bare hands to pick up the damage caused by this brick.

    3. That you accept these terms.

    • by TheLink (130905)
      Maybe someone will send them a bomb one day.

      A bomb that only blows up if they accept the terms and open it :).
  • your only recourse is to cancel service."

    That's how it used to be in the past, during the years of wild capitalism. They should put out an audio version of the manual w/ the digitized version of John Wayne's voice. Should come w/ oil snake and etc.

  • Contract (Score:5, Interesting)

    by oahazmatt (868057) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @10:16AM (#25038509) Journal
    Sorry, but if I'm contracted to certain functions at certain price increments or allotments, I expect those to be honored. If one party decides to change the terms of the contract without discussing (let a lone receiving approval) from the other party, then the first party should be considered to be in breach of contract.

    Or does this mean that I can send AT&T a "customer ToS" and say that I now get unlimited everything on my plan, and if they don't approve they can just walk away from the existing contract?
    • by gentimjs (930934)
      No, they wiggle into the original TOS that they can modify the TOS at any time in the future, usually with some BS "30 day notice" clause, that they might even honor!
      • Re:Contract (Score:5, Funny)

        by halcyon1234 (834388) <halcyon1234@hotmail.com> on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @10:55AM (#25039095) Journal

        Or does this mean that I can send AT&T a "customer ToS" and say that I now get unlimited everything on my plan, and if they don't approve they can just walk away from the existing contract?

        No, they wiggle into the original TOS that they can modify the TOS at any time in the future, usually with some BS "30 day notice" clause, that they might even honor!

        And thus the game of Calvinball began...

  • by Kligat (1244968) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @10:18AM (#25038527)

    Throughout the book, they added random chapters from War and Peace, the Bible, the Harry Potter books, and John McCain's medical records. Afterward, they intertwined them with the actual guidebook by referring to the passages in the text.

    "To find customer support, tap the number of times Hermione knocked on Hagrid's door before he answered, in the chapter we copied into this guidebook fifteen pages ago, then the first two digits in the square root in the number of members in the Fellowship of the Ring, then the first name of the narrator in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde translated into ROT13 and then from letters into numbers."

  • I was actually starting to get used to them having reacquired Bellsouth, now they are right back to their old ways. Maybe they should be split AGAIN.
    • by tekiegreg (674773) *
      For what it's worth, it was more like BellSouth acquiring them. BellSouth was the big humongous company then and AT&T was this withered old hag of a battered long distance company. But they figured everyone knew the AT&T brand name better, so Ma Bell surfaced again out of that merger...
      • Re:Great.... (Score:5, Informative)

        by squiggleslash (241428) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @10:34AM (#25038801) Homepage Journal

        At the time AT&T bought BellSouth, AT&T was certainly not the old long distance company. That had been bought by SBC a year or two previously. SBC renamed itself to AT&T, and that corporation swallowed BellSouth.

        All of which is a shame, because BellSouth was actually a fairly decent company - well, fairly decent as monopolistic local telcos can be.

        • SBC wasn't just SouthWestern Bell anymore, either. They were already SWB, PacBell, and Ameritech combined. SBC and BellSouth were partners in Cingular, too.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Rtech (647652)
          No kidding. For what it's worth I really enjoyed my Bellsouth account and have been worried about the quality of service I'd get from AT&T ever since it switched over... didn't we break up that company for a reason??
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by jonaskoelker (922170)

          Colbert explains it best. You can watch him on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6nuwQmhrZ8 [youtube.com].

          • Text synopsis for those of use who can't watch YouTube videos at work? (I can bypass the web filter but, it's not worth risking my job to watch a YouTube video linked to by Slashdot.)

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by jonaskoelker (922170)

              Colbert explains how AT&T, BellSouth, Cingular, SBC, Ohio Bell, Indiana Bell, ${Other} Bell each bought one another and each others' subdivisions and rebranded the bought parts (with a hilariously confusing arrow diagram), then concludes that:

              Due to American anti-trust regulations, we have gone from this
              [map of USA, parts of Canada and Mexico are showing; a caption says "1980:", there the AT&T logo and name, USA is blue to indicate that it's all pwned by AT&T] ... to this ...
              [the same map, with

              • Thank you. :)

                Reminds me of great Cthulhu: You nuke him, he regenerates, is now radioactive and pissed as hell.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sucks to have an iPhone and be under contract.

  • *sigh* (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rock56501 (1301287) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @10:48AM (#25038995)
    It's sad to hear about things like this. No reasonable person with a life is going to read that. I guess I actually appreciate the press bringing this to light so some kind of action can be taken on it.

    It also makes me glad that I don't live in CA and that I am on Vonage.

  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't a Stateside judge just quash something like this a few weeks ago?
  • I'm AT&T FREE! (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheDarkener (198348) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:29AM (#25039637)

    I used to have 3 separate AT&T accounts, with a total of 5 services...

    - Home phone line
    - Upgraded DSL

    - Business phone line

    - Cell phone (mine)
    - Cell phone (wife's)

    I canceled them ALL because of the AT&T/NSA wiretapping fiasco, and haven't looked back yet. I can't tell you all how good it feels to shed AT&T from my life. Seriously. I have T-Mobile for cellphones (they have great customer service AND coverage!), Comcast for Internet, and Vonage for business phone.

    I have to tell you all again - it feels GOOD to be free from the telco giant. :) I would advise any sane person to do the same.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      SBC cancelled me - for some reason they stopped offering 6 Mbps DSL and would only offer me, at most, 3 Mbps. Now I have a 32 Mbps Comcast connection, 1.5 Mbps speakeasy OneLink DSL line which I use to host services and as backup, and I get VoIP for basically free as part of that package, and I'm paying LESS than I was paying with SBC.

      • by DinDaddy (1168147)

        They are trying to get people to move off their regular DSL services in favor of the new U-verse4 stuff. Best way to do that is make the old DSL unattractive. They did the same thing with dialaup several years back. My dialup became mysteriously slower. Ordered their DSL, and a couple of days before they shipped me my DSL equipment, my dialup speed suddenly doubled to about 50K. My friend down the street's experience mirrored mine a few weeks later. They were deliberately slowing the dialup lines.

        DSL

    • I had the exact opposite experience with T-Mobile, crappy service, terrible coverage, and worthless customer support... Even had trouble with them trying to charge me the month after I transferred my phone off their network.

      But that was two years ago, maybe they've improved since... But I'm not willing to go back.

    • God I can't believe I'm defending AT&T but frankly Comcast sucks way more. Horrible throttling of DLs and some of the worst practices. T-Mobile is great, but you are crazy about the reception, they are GSM like AT&T but don't have access to large EDGE networks and forget 3G! Also AT&T has far better roaming agreements. T-Mo is great for urban non data heavy phones.
  • The only recourse (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wonkavader (605434) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @12:03PM (#25040131)

    It seems like the only recourse to lawyers honestly trying to do their best by dishonestly doing something that they know will benefit the company more than hurt it is to add weight to the honesty side of the calculus.

    A class action lawsuit, with every single one of their customers as a participant, aimed at a punitive charge for violating known laws (their legal team knew that this was an unenforceable contract, and also knowingly tried to bury the contract so that customer would not see it) would add up to real money.

    We wouldn't see it, of course (we'd get $10? each, total 100 million dollars?), but it would be large enough to make corporate lawyers put more weight on the "what if we get caught" side of the equation. This would benefit every consumer in a large number of industries.

  • by immcintosh (1089551) <slashdot@i a n m c i ntosh.org> on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @12:20PM (#25040417) Homepage
    As far as I'm aware, AT&T can say whatever the hell they want in a notice like that. Whether any of it is legally enforceable is another matter entirely. I mean, contracts require certain niceties like, you know, both sides actually agreeing to them. I imagine this will be treated as a contract of adhesion in the worst possible light if it ever actually comes to court.
  • by rnturn (11092) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @01:38PM (#25041797)

    I tried searching for text in the Guidebook and, for a long time, found I was more likely than not to receive an HTTP 500 error. Eventually I did get results returned though all returned hits (that I got, anyway) were links to individual PDFs. There were often dozens of linked PDFs with no real way of knowing which ones were really going to be helpful at all to you. The search function is, in a word: useless

    Nice site. (For sufficiently small values of nice, that is.)

    I was going to switch my internet access at home from Covad to ATT. Until now.

    • Heck, I should have tried this before but the search results I get show symbols denoting that the information is in a PDF but the PDF images aren't links to anything. They're just pictures. The site is even less than worthless.

    • I switched from At&t to DSLExtreme. $7.00 cheaper and it's faster.

  • Oh wait... AT&T has a monopoly...
    • Yes...

      When I first moved to Chicago, I purchased an AT&T package for home phone & DSL. Unfortunately, after I signed up and the phone line was installed, guess what? "No DSL is offered in your area?" THEN WHY DID YOU SELL IT TO ME? - As no one else in the area at that time (Comcast moved in later) offered high-speed internet, especially not over a line owned by AT&T, I was forced to pay $175 ransom to move my phone to SBC and their DSL. SBC was great, I had a $9 phone bill (other phone companies

  • Using U-Verse in Michigan. They sent me an email saying the ToS had changed, and listed a "few important changes":

    For all Members:

    * Arbitration Agreement. We have added language that requires customer disputes with AT&T regarding AT&T Internet Services to be submitted to binding arbitration or small claims court. Arbitration is less formal than a lawsuit in court and often faster. In addition, AT&T will pay for all costs of arbitration, no matter who wins, as long as your claim is not frivol

  • Free SMS = $0.20 (Score:4, Informative)

    by insanechemist (323218) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @04:23PM (#25044505) Homepage

    Anyone else notice that AT&T sends you a notice of updated iPhone firmware that starts with "AT&T Free Msg: Apple has released ..." BUT when you get the bill - lo and behold you've been charged $0.20? I only notice this because I never use text messaging. I wonder if there is a way to disable this "feature" . . .

    • by sr180 (700526)
      Something similar happened in Australia where Telstra sent out promotional messages (via voicemail??) that end users were charged for. They were taken to court very quickly and ordered to undo the charges.
  • Think of the trees? The Trees!

  • Sanction the lawyers that write these unenforcable TOS agreements.

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