We are a country of laws.
Every person gets his or her day in court.
That may have once been the case, but if you have traditional phone service in Humboldt County, you are about to give up these most basic rights of an American citizen.
As of October 1st, all customers of AT&T will be obligated to the terms of their new 13 clause contract, which, among other things, prohibits you from any legal recourse in a court of law, including small claims court, and which prohibits you from participating in any class action lawsuits against AT&T. And this is retroactive, so it applies to claims for violations that may have occurred prior to this agreement.
There has been no coverage of this yet, by any local media, but there was a story done by a Bay Area television station, which includes comments from an attorney with TURN, the consumer watchdog group. There is also information available on UCAN's website, the Utility Consumer Action Network.
One other clause in the contract, which has not been brought up in even this limited coverage, is that you are agreeing to let "unauthorized third parties" (such as the Federal Government) monitor your communications (clause 10 d).
My take on this is that having been given criminal immunity by the Congress for their role in the illegal wiretapping by the Federal Government, AT&T is using this new contract to give themselves immunity from civil liability, which would have been the only recourse left to citizens whose constitutional rights were violated by these wire taps. This is in addition to avoiding any other legal actions from their day to day business practices.
It should be no surprise that a major corporation wants such protection. What is surprising is that the California Public Utilities Commission is allowing this. Apparently their justification is that there is competition in "most" local markets for local land line phone service. Of course that is not the case in Humboldt County, where our only other options are cell phones, if you happen to get service in your area, or voice over IP, if you happen to get high speed internet service, from someone other than AT&T, such as Suddenlink Cable or a wireless internet provider such as 101 Netlink (these services will not work during a power outage).
You can contact our State Senator and Assembly Member and you should file a complaint with the CPUC*, to ask for some relief, but unless you cancel your service with AT&T by October 1st, you will have agreed to these terms.
This is one more example of what deregulation has brought us.
* in addition to clicking on the CPUC link, you can file a complaint through snail mail, phone or fax. (you can also file a complaint with the FCC):
U.S. mail to:
California Public Utilities Commission
Consumer Affairs Branch
505 Van Ness Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94102-3298
Call us toll-free, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. at 1-800-649-7570
Fax us at 1-415-703-1158
TURN The Utility Reform Network
Fight back against AT&T's new service agreement:
A Get Out of Jail Free Card for AT&T
AT&T's new 18-page residential service agreement is long and confusing, says TURN. Among the items buried in the fine print: No Class-Action Lawsuits Allowed, and Government Wiretapping's OK. The agreement would force customers to give up their legal rights to receive phone service from California's dominant provider.
Click here to sign the petition to stop the AT&T service agreement.