Suit sends message on texting costs

Customers can buy text-messaging packages or pay per text.
Customers can buy text-messaging packages or pay per text.

Text messaging has become so popular that reports have surfaced about young people who supposedly have developed addictions to the mode of wireless communications.

But in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Toledo, six northwest Ohioians allege that mobile telephone firms providing text-messaging services have become addicted to profits generated by the business.

The group, represented by Toledo attorney David Zoll, accuses five major cell-phone service providers of colluding to jack up the prices in violation of federal anti-trust laws. The suit seeks class-action status on behalf of tens of thousands of purchasers throughout the state of Ohio and the United States.

The American public is really getting fleeced here, the lawyer said. The purpose of this suit is to try to put consumers on equal footing with these multi-national conglomerates that control the texting market.

Companies named in the suit denied wrongdoing.

AT&T is reviewing the complaint, said Michael Coe, a company spokesman in Dallas.

The wireless marketplace is fiercely competitive, he added. We offer a variety of text-messaging plans, and we believe our rates are a great value. Our rates for text messaging and any other product or service we offer are driven solely by the marketplace.

Spokesman for Sprint Nextel Corp. in Overland Park, Kan., and T-Mobile USA Inc. of Bellevue, Wash., described the suit as without merit.

Alltel Corp. has not been served with the suit, spokesman Andrew Moreau said from headquarters in Little Rock. He said, however, that the company hasn t increased text-messaging fees as much as other carriers.

The other company named in the suit was Verizon Communications of New York.

Text messages are brief written notes sent by cell phone. Carriers charge for each message, sent or received, or phone owners can buy packages that permit a number of text messages.

The Toledo suit was filed Sept. 12. It is one of at least three similar anti-trust suits filed in the nation in the past two weeks. They were filed a few days after Sen. Herb Kohl (D., Wis.), chairman of a U.S. Senate anti-trust subcommittee, called on AT&T, Sprint-Nextel, T-Mobile, and Verizon to explain why rates have jumped 100 percent to 20 cents a message in three years. The rates apply to customers who don t buy text packages or who exceed allowed text messages.

Other suits are in Chicago and Kansas. They likely will be combined eventually, and a federal judge will decide where the case will be heard, Mr. Zoll said.

The Toledo case, which has been assigned to Judge James Carr, was filed on behalf of customers who used text-message services at the five companies between Jan. 1, 2006, and Sept. 1, 2008. The complaint demands the defendants turn over all profits from the allegedly improper charges.

Plaintiffs claim that 363 billion text messages sent in 2007 generated $23 billion for service providers.

Cell-phone companies spend just a fraction of a cent to transmit each message, the Toledo lawyer said.

Kristen Kastel, an 18-year-old college student from Sylvania Township, got hit with the steep fees when she exceeded her plans limit of 300 text messages a month.

It is my main form of communications with my friends, said the Sprint Nextel subscriber who attends Cleveland State University. I rarely use voice-mails. Texting is way more convenient.

Industry studies have found that 80 percent of people between 13 to 25 send text messages, compared to 18 percent of people 40 to 49.

Text messaging has been cited as a possible contributing factor in a commuter train crash in Los Angeles on Sept. 12 that killed 25 people. The engineer, who missed a stop sign, was believed to have been text messaging around the time of the accident.

Other plaintiffs in the Toledo suit are Susan Orians of Findlay; James Reaster of Toledo; Mecca Keener of Toledo; Zac Flores of Bowling Green, and Brandon Weaver of Bowling Green.

Despite steep price increases since 2005, plaintiffs could have a difficult time proving collusion by the firms, said Geoffrey Rapp, an associate professor of law at the University of Toledo who specializes in anti-trust issues.

I would doubt that a sophisticated company with good legal representation would think they could get away with this, he said. But every once in a while I m surprised by the things the most sophisticated, well-represented businesses think they can get away with.

Contact Gary Pakulski at: or 419-724-6082.