Nightly News | May 21, 2011
LESTER HOLT, anchor: Some 20 million Americans use AT&T for their iPhone and iPad service, but now the company is under fire from customers who say they've been routinely overcharged. Senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers has details of their class-action lawsuit.
LISA MYERS reporting: Whenever you check a Web site , download an app or play a game, you use data, and it's counted against your monthly data limit. Lisa and Mike Stewart , a four- iPhone family, chose the smallest AT&T data plan for Mike because he doesn't use his phone much.
Mr. MIKE STEWART (AT&T Customer): Look at the bills that -- my charges.
MYERS: Within days, he was surprised to find he'd exceeded his limit, generating an overcharge.
Mr. STEWART: Fifteen dollar additional charge.
MYERS: Even more surprising, what some call phantom charges.
Ms. LISA STEWART (AT&T Customer): There's unusual activity on the bill in the middle of the night when we're all sleeping.
Mr. STEWART: Charges. Charges.
Ms. STEWART: They're data charges.
MYERS: The class-action lawsuit accuses AT&T of systematically overcharging customers.
Mr. BARRY DAVIS (Attorney): Well, it's like a rigged gas pump where, when you go to the gasoline station and you ask for a gallon of gas, you only get 9/10.
MYERS: We asked John Davis , a computer engineer who isn't involved in the lawsuit, to show us how much data is downloaded when you click on various sites.
Mr. JOHN DAVIS: Click on MSNBC , it's a good deal larger than the Google Web site.
MYERS: And most news sites are going to be larger, are they not, in terms of data usage?
Mr. J. DAVIS: Yes, they will be.
MYERS: Click on a YouTube video and it uses even more data. For this lawsuit, the lawyers say they hired an independent computer firm to precisely measure every time the test iPhones and iPads used data in some way, and then compared it with the bill from AT&T . They say they found that AT&T systematically overstated data usage by 7 to 14 percent, sometimes as much as 300 percent. Did you find overcharges on every single transaction?
Mr. B. DAVIS: Yes. Every single one.
MYERS: Did you ever find an instance where the discrepancy worked to the benefit of the customer?
Mr. B. DAVIS: Never. Always an overcharge. Never an undercharge.
MYERS: To test for those phantom charges, the lawsuit says the engineer bought a new iPhone , disabled everything that might trigger data usage, and let the phone sit for 10 days, on but untouched. When the bill came in, there were charges for 35 different transactions.
Mr. STEWART: This is like someone just coming in and stealing those minutes away from you. They're just robbing the time from your plan.
MYERS: AT&T says the allegations are without merit and reflect a misunderstanding of how data is consumed and billed. For example, the company says some apps have software that runs in the background or is automatically updated, which may use data the consumer isn't aware of. Lisa Myers , NBC News, Washington.