Leahy Joins Franken In Pressing AT&T On Its Pervasive Use Of Forced Arbitration Clauses In Consumer Contracts

. . . In Letter to AT&T CEO, Senators Call For Transparency And Accountability For Consumers

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Wednesday joined Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) and other senators in pressing AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson for answers about the company’s widespread use of pre-dispute forced arbitration clauses in customer contracts that affect millions of consumers in Vermont and across the country.

Leahy and Franken have partnered for several years in pressing for reforms to restore consumer rights by curbing the widespread use of mandatory arbitration clauses, which compel consumers to sign away their rights in contesting poor service, flawed products or even sexual harassment.  The clauses often are buried in fine print of contracts for services ranging from credit cards to cell service, and signing them is required for receiving such products or services.  Leahy has introduced the Restoring Statutory Rights Act and has joined Franken in introducing a related consumer rights reform bill to reign in the growing use of mandatory arbitration clauses.

The letter, headed by Franken, was joined by Leahy and by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.).  It comes on the heels of a recent CBS News investigation which revealed that over the past two years, more than 4200 AT&T customers have made complaints against AT&T alleging that the company is not honoring its deals and promotions, resulting in subscribers being overcharged for services.  The report also found that over the past two years, only 18 out of AT&T’s nearly 150 million subscribers sought accountability through individual, forced arbitration proceedings.

“We are particularly concerned about AT&T’s treatment of customer complaints alleging that the company charged a higher rate for services than initially offered in a deal or promotion,” the senators wrote.  “As consumers face rising prices for telecommunications services, they deserve accuracy and transparency about the litany of fees and charges associated with such services and a meaningful opportunity to seek accountability when they’ve been deceived by a provider.”

They went on to write:  “Based on the very limited number of customers who utilized AT&T’s forced arbitration system as reported by CBS, as compared to the number of AT&T customers in the U.S., we believe there exists the potential for many consumers’ claims going unheard because of AT&T’s insistence on forced arbitration as the only way for customers to resolve disputes with the company.”

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