Stephen Hagen apparently picked up a bit of alt.aol-sucks humor when he
composed his analysis of AOL's billing practices. At one point in the proposed settlement, he describes the time for which you're charged $9.95 a month as
...the five "free" hours...
But here's the guts of the proposed settlement. Former members receive nothing unless they re-subscribe to AOL or unless they incurred more than $300.00 in charges. This is said to be justified by examining AOL's internal billing records.
The information furnished by AOL through its confidential analysis, after
adjustment to include damages resulting from the impact of its billing
practices during the five "free" hours for customers exceeding the minimum
charges, showed total maximum damages of approximately $13 million from
the onset of each of the practices through the end of July 1995.
Interesting that they stopped calculating at a point in time when AOL had
only 3 million members--half their current total -- and 8 months before
the practices were corrected. (March 1996).
"Corrected" as in, as of Friday, AOL displays the total amount of time for
which you'll be billed. The proposed settlement re-defines "corrected" as press coverage of
the lawsuit, which informed people of the billing procedure AOL had never disclosed, and Steve Case's letter when the suit was filed last July. But Case's letter was less than forthcoming--he wrote "some members have raised questions" which had "led to rumors that allege we are 'overcharging' for time spent online."
Interestingly, Case goes on to mention complaints about the
art downloads, promising AOL was working on "the ability to enter an area while the art downloads", and was also looking into a heavy user pricing plan.
"We appreciate your continued patience!" Case wrote, almost one year ago...
Public hearings will be held in September to gather objections to the proposed terms of the settlement. The judge has the power to strike down the settlement terms if he feels the public objections are valid.
The most important thing to note about the settlement is that it is a proposed settlement.
There's more at stake here than it seems. From the court documents for the proposed settlement...
Why does the settlement mention not just overbilling, but delays caused by art downloads and withdrawing cash from checking accounts without authorization?
Specifically, plaintiffs allege that AOL did not adequately disclose its
policies of adding a fifteen-second connection and disconnection time to
the length of each session for billing purposes, and of billing customers
in one-minute increments rounded up to the nearest minute; that AOL's
billing methods and practices caused subscribers to incur additional
charges for downloading of image files, for delays in connection time
caused by AOL software, and for time spent in "free" areas; that AOL
failed to refund unused membership charges to customers who cancel their
subscriptions prior to the end of a billing period; that AOL's billing
system unfairly calculated service charges on a per-session basis; that
AOL made withdrawals from customers' checking accounts without proper
authorization; and that AOL's advertising of its hourly rate at $2.95 per
hour was misleading.
7. Any member of the Settlement Class who does not, in connection
with the Notices, file a valid and timely request for exclusion
will be bound by the Final Judgment dismissing this action on the
merits and with prejudice.
AOL has taken every complaint from alt.aol-sucks and placed it in the
description of the class action. Every former member who doesn't file an objection by August 23 becomes ineligible
to address these in court, since as a former member they're bound by the
terms of this class action settlement.
Robert Seidman opposes the proposed settlement
Boardwatch magazines opposes the proposed settlement
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