Stephen Hagen apparently picked up a bit of 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...

The most important thing to note about the settlement is that it is a proposed settlement.

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.

There's more at stake here than it seems. From the court documents for the proposed settlement...
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.
Why does the settlement mention not just overbilling, but delays caused by art downloads and withdrawing cash from checking accounts without authorization?
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 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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