Former AT&T Wireless subscribers to get day in court

A class-action lawsuit brought by disgruntled former AT&T Wireless subscribers who say they were mistreated when the company was bought by Cingular will be allowed to proceed.

The customers allege that when Cingular purchased AT&T Wireless for $41 billion in 2004, their service deteriorated when Cingular started dismantling and assimilating the AT&T Wireless network. They also claim that they were forced to pay for new Cingular phones, and are seeking payment for extra charges as well as damages.

Cingular Wireless, a joint venture between SBC Communications and BellSouth, acquired AT&T Wireless in 2004. After that, SBC acquired the old, wireline AT&T and renamed it the new AT&T. In 2006, the new AT&T bought BellSouth and Cingular became wholly owned by AT&T. In 2007, Cingular announced it would be rebranded under the AT&T name and the whole of AT&T's wireless operations are now known as AT&T Mobility.

AT&T had sought to have the whole lawsuit tossed on the grounds that its service agreements require customers to submit their complaints to arbitration. A U.S. District Court in Seattle rejected that argument, saying that arbitration would be too costly for individual customers.

"We respectfully disagree with the court's conclusions," AT&T spokesman Fletcher Cook told the Associated Press. "Our arbitration clause is among the most consumer-friendly in the nation, and has been shown to be very consumer-friendly in other cases. We're studying this ruling and considering our options."

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