AT&T shot back against an escalating volley of criticism suggesting the forced arbitration clauses found in DirecTV contracts harm consumers.
“We have been widely recognized for having one of the most consumer-friendly arbitration policies in the country—one federal court said our arbitration agreement has ‘perhaps the most fair and consumer-friendly provisions this Court has ever seen,’” reads a statement provided to FierceCable by AT&T spokesman Marty Richter.
“Another judge described it as ‘unusually customer-centered,’” the statement added. “The agreement provides strong incentives for us to resolve disputes prior to arbitration, and we resolve the vast majority before arbitration begins.”
Last week, five Democratic U.S. senators wrote a letter (PDF) to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, asking him to put an end to clauses in DirecTV contracts that require customers to enter forced arbitration to resolve disputes.
"Forced arbitration provisions in telecommunications contracts erode Americans' ability to seek justice in the courts by forcing them into a privatized system that is inherently biased in favor of providers and which offers virtually no way to challenge a biased outcome,” said the letter, penned by senators Al Franken, D-Minn., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Edward Markey, D-Mass.
"Forced arbitration requires consumers to sign away their constitutional right to hold providers accountable in court just to access modern-day essentials like mobile phone, internet and pay TV services,” the lawmakers added.
For its part, AT&T noted that its arbitration approach was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011.
“In a 2013 Supreme Court case involving another company's arbitration clause, counsel for plaintiffs made clear that if the other company’s arbitration clause had been as good as AT&T’s, ‘we would not be here,’” Richter said.
Richter also noted that AT&T pays for consumer arbitration costs and pays a $10,000 premium if the arbiter wins an award more than the company’s final settlement offer. And arbitration always takes plays in the consumer’s home county for claims of less than $10,000.
Richter also took time to address a CBS report, which tallied around 4,000 consumer complaints against AT&T’s DirecTV satellite unit over the last two years.
“Like other companies, we frequently introduce promotions to provide our customers with the best services and products at the best price,” he said. “These special offers vary in terms of pricing and duration. If a customer signs up for one of these offers, we fully honor the terms through the promotion's completion. Customers who enrolled in one of our promotional offers and believe they did not receive the full benefits should contact customer service.”