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Appeared on: Friday, October 29, 2010
Verizon Wireless Settles Data Charge Issue in Agreement With FCC

U.S. mobile service Verizon Wireless has agreed to pay the U.S. Treasury $25 million on top of more than $52 million in refunds to consumers for overcharging them, the U.S. regulator said.

In a settlement with the FCC, Verizon has agreed to a payment of $25 million to the U.S. Treasury even though the inaccurate billing was inadvertent.

"Internal billing processes can be complex and, in this case, we made inadvertent billing mistakes. We accept responsibility for those errors, and apologize to our customers who received accidental data charges on their bills," Verizon daid.

The settlement acknowledges Verizon's prior announcement that it would reimburse about 15 million current and former customers who may have been mistakenly billed. The company will spend $52.8 million to reimburse those customers. The company will also provide targeted information about data usage and tracking to new and existing customers, in both English and Spanish; establish a special internal team to track, identify and address customer data usage complaints; and provide additional training on data charge and credit issues to all of its customer-facing customer care employees.

Verizon said that it had already begun the process of repaying the 15 million customers for "accidental" past data charges that the company discovered through its own investigation in response to customer inquiries. These inadvertent charges affect those customers who did not have data plans and choose to pay for data usage on a per megabyte basis. Verizon is notifying eligible current and former customers that it is applying credits to their accounts or sending refunds in October and November. Current customers will be notified in upcoming bills; former customers will receive a letter and refund check in the mail. In most cases, these credits and refunds are in the $2 to $6 range; some will receive larger amounts, Verizon added.

By far the single largest problem, involving the vast majority of credits, was caused by a very small data "acknowledgment" session sent by software pre-loaded on certain phones. For Verizon customers who did not have data plans and who were not otherwise using data features on their devices, this triggered a "pay as you go" charge of $1.99.

"We never intended to charge customers for this "acknowledgment" data session," Verizon said in a statement. "In other cases, we accidentally charged customers for access to website links that were not supposed to trigger data charges. Once again, this affected only some of the customers who did not have data plans, and who were not otherwise intentionally using the data features on their devices," the company added.

Verizon have put in place additional improvements to resolve issues that caused these accidental charges. The company is changing software on future devices to remove acknowledgments and prevent them from triggering the small data "acknowledgment" sessions. Other steps involve enhancing internal controls on website links that should be free to access, as well as additional software improvements.


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