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Consumer Group Sues Nextel

October 22, 2003|James S. Granelli | Times Staff Writer

A consumer group sued Nextel Communications Inc. on Tuesday, alleging that the mobile phone company's new statements hide details on calls to avoid billing disputes and boost revenue.

The lawsuit by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights claims that Nextel's new billing statements, mailed this month, discourage customers from learning about charges for calls or messages they didn't make or deleted without reading -- unless they pay $2.50 a month for the details.

Confusing and time-consuming customer service call centers and Web sites also hinder customers from finding out details of their calls, according to the suit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Nextel spokeswoman Audrey Schaefer said she was unable to comment because the company had not seen the suit. She noted, however, that instead of paying for a detailed printout, customers could go to Nextel's Web site to get the information for free.

But, the suit contends, the process is so convoluted that it can take 30 minutes to find the information. Also, many Nextel customers lack Internet access, the suit asserts.

The Santa Monica foundation, headed by activist Harvey Rosenfield, took action after several Nextel customers, including Rosenfield, realized that the new statements didn't offer much help in finding billing errors. They each received four unsolicited text messages on their phones and deleted them, thinking that Nextel would not charge them for the service.

Their difficulties in finding out whether they were charged and then challenging the charges prompted the lawsuit.

The foundation on Oct. 1 sued Cingular Wireless after a state Public Utilities Commission judge levied a $12.5-million fine against that cellphone carrier for charging for services it offered but couldn't deliver.

Cingular is appealing the fine to the full PUC.

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