Cingular Wireless Gets Sued; Refutes Claims; Plans Copuntersuit

Cingular Wireless, one of the largest U.S. mobile phone carriers, on Friday indignantly refuted claims in a lawsuit that it misled and overcharged some customers, and said it is considering coutersuing.

The claims, made by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and filed on behalf of seven plaintiffs, are "completely without merit, and just a lie" said Joaquin Carbonell, Cingular's general counsel.

The foundation filed its lawsuit on Thursday in federal court in Seattle charging that Cingular reneged on its promise to provide AT&T Wireless customers with new and better services. Cingular bought AT&T Wireless for $41 billion in October 2004.

Instead, Cingular "immediately began dismantling and degrading the AT&T network, forcing AT&T customers to move to Cingular's cell network," the foundation said.

Cingular then forced AT&T customers to pay $18 to transfer or upgrade their service to its wireless network, and charged others $175 early termination fee if they tried to switch to another company, the group said.

"Others who didn't want to pay or couldn't afford the fees have been stuck with riding out their contract with AT&T Wireless while suffering poor to no reception," the group said in a statement.

The lawsuit says that "the amount in controversy" exceeds $5 million, and that the plaintiffs are seeking triple that amount in damages.

Cingular said it is considering its options including filing a counter-suit.

Cingular said it spent nearly $10 billion to integrate and improve its networks over 21 months since the merger was completed.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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