A recent email came as quite a surprise to many Sprint users: It informed customers that their data plans, as of June 2012, would be capped at 5 gigabytes (GB). The unilateral change by Sprint appears to have affected users who have a mobile Hotspot or a Phone as Modem data package. It is unclear whether the company has similar plans to limit cellphone data plans to 5 GB.
The unlimited data package used to set Sprint apart from its mobile carrier competitors such as Verizon and AT&T, which had stopped offering unlimited data plans for phones and tablets. It seems that the trend of unlimited data is falling to the wayside in favor of limiting data and increasing package prices.
One major outstanding question, however, is how consumers who had cellphone and data contracts that included the “unlimited data” will be affected moving forward. Will Sprint limit certain data plans while still advertising the unlimited features of the company? Or will the company change its marketing strategy to reflect the changes in its data plan policies?
Are the Modifications to Sprint Cellular Data Plans Legal?
Consumers who are affected by the Sprint data plan change are unsurprisingly frustrated and confused. Under the law, there may be remedies available to consumers who relied on Sprint’s “unlimited” data plans in the past, but much of the liability depends on the actual contract with Sprint.
The following are two possible causes of action that consumers may be able to pursue against Sprint:
- False advertising: A company may be held liable for damages when it knowingly advertises information that is false. A claim for false advertising requires 1) a false statement of fact has been made; 2) the statement has deceived a portion of its target audience; 3) the deceit is likely to affect purchasing decisions; 4) the good or service is involved in interstate commerce; 5) the false statement has resulted in harm to the plaintiff.
- Breach of contract: In general, a company that fails to follow the terms of a contract and is therefore in breach of the contract may be held liable for the damages stemming from the contract breach.
Whether consumers have claims for either false advertising or breach of contract is highly dependent on the facts of each individual consumer’s plan, contract and situation.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
First and foremost, it is critical that you review any contracts that you sign. Oftentimes, contract provisions allow a company or business to make changes to suit its needs. While it can be difficult to understand the contract language, it’s important for you as a consumer to have an idea of the contract provisions.
Second, seek clarification of confusing contract terms. You should fully understand the document that you sign. When you sign a cellphone contract, you are bound to the terms so it can be helpful to ask questions of the service provider, speak to an attorney, or seek the guidance of a Missouri consumer agency.
While these steps may sound like a lot of work, protecting yourself before you sign on the dotted line can save you a great deal of frustration and money. If you are especially concerned about Sprint, Verizon or AT&T data plan or phone contract changes, it may be worthwhile to consider opting for a month-to-month or contract-free cellphone plan, too.
Contact a Knowledgeable Consumer Fraud Attorney
If you believe you have been wronged as a consumer, it is important to consult with a knowledgeable Missouri consumer fraud attorney. A lawyer will be able to evaluate your contract to determine whether you have a business law or consumer law claim against the company. It is also possible that you may be able to bring a class action claim on behalf of all parties who have been similarly harmed by the unlawful action by the company.