Federal District Court Approves $40 Million Data-Throttling Settlement

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On July 2, 2015, Judge Edward M. Chen of the Northern District of California granted final approval of a $40 million settlement reached between the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and TracFone Wireless, Inc., d/b/a Straight Talk Wireless, Net10 Wireless, Simple Mobile, and TelCel America (“TracFone”). See In Re TracFone Unlimited Service Plan Litig., No. 13-3440 (N.D. Cal. July 2, 2015) (Order Granting Motion for Final Approval of Class Action Settlement and Granting for Award of Attorneys’ Fees, Costs, and Representative Service Awards) (available here). Class members alleged that TracFone advertised and sold “unlimited” data plans that, in reality, were quite the opposite. TracFone admitted to slowing down (aka “throttling”) or suspending its customers’ data service, and sometimes terminating customers’ cellular service entirely, when those customers exceeded a monthly data usage cap set by TracFone. TracFone did not disclose the data usage cap and subsequent data interference to class members prior to their purchase of “unlimited” data plans.

The settlement provides for the disbursement of $40 million paid by TracFone to the class members in varying amounts based on the timing and level of data interference. Additionally, the court granted injunctive relief to the class, whereby TracFone must disclose “throttle limits or caps, as well as the actual speeds to which customer data will be slowed” alongside any “unlimited data” advertisements and implement a system to notify customers by SMS text message when they reach the data usage cap. Order at 13.

Judge Chen approved the settlement after considering the factors set forth in In Re Bluetooth Headset Prods. Liab. Litig., including:

(1) the strength of the plaintiff’s case; (2) the risk, expense, complexity, and likely duration of further litigation; (3) the risk of maintaining class action status throughout the trial; (4) the amount offered in settlement; (5) the extent of discovery completed and the stage of the proceedings; (6) the experience and views of counsel; (7) the presence of a governmental participant; and (8) the reaction of the class members of the proposed settlement. In Re Bluetooth Headset Prods. Liab. Litig., 654 F.3d 935, 943 (9th Cir. 2011) (citing Churchill Village, L.L.C. v. Gen. Elec., citations omitted).

The court concluded that the terms were fair to both class members and TracFone, noting that TracFone had strong defenses if the case went to trial. The FTC has propounded similar claims against AT&T. See Fed. Trade Commission v. AT&T Mobility LLC, No. C-14-4785 EMC (N.D. Cal. Oct. 28, 2014).

Authored by: 
Trisha Monesi, Associate