Cingular Faces Class-Action Lawsuit

NEW YORK A group of unhappy Cingular customers filed a class-action lawsuit yesterday, claiming that the cell phone company degraded the quality of service after it bought AT&T Wireless, their original provider, in 2004.

The plaintiffs, who are seeking class action status, also charge that Cingular engaged in false advertising, breached their contracts and violated consumer protection laws. The suit was filed by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based watchdog group.

Cingular bought AT&T Wireless in October 2004 for $41 billion. The seven plaintiffs are claiming that after the acquisition, Cingular “deliberately schemed to dismantle the AT&T Wireless network,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

The suit also claims that “despite a massive marketing campaign promising that the merger would be seamless for AT&T Wireless customers,” the Atlanta-based company instead “diminish[ed] and degrade[d]” their service, implemented an $18 upgrade fee and required that they purchase new handsets and incur other costs. If they refused, their service was interrupted or they were required to pay an early cancellation fee of $175 on their contracts, the suit says.

“Existing AT&T Wireless subscribers who have not ‘transferred’ to Cingular have suffered, and continue to suffer, diminished service in the form of dropped calls as well as poor or no reception in areas where they previously received adequate reception,” the suit alleges.

Clay Owen, a representative for Cingular, denied the claims on Friday.

“Some of the points made by the lawsuit are absolutely incorrect,” he said. “Last year Cingular spent $6.5 billion on integrating the network, not degrading it.”

Owen said that Cingular expected the two networks to be fully merged by the end of the year.

“We are improving and expanding these networks, not dismantling them,” he said.