AT&T’s Stephenson gets pushback from Senate Democrats on forced arbitration for DirecTV disputes

DirecTV dish
The senators cited a CBS report from last month, which counted nearly 4,200 complaints against AT&T in the last two years for allegedly not living up to advertised prices.

Five Democratic U.S. senators have written a letter (PDF) to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, asking him to put an end to clauses in DirecTV contracts that require customers to enter forced arbitration to resolve disputes.

"Forced arbitration provisions in telecommunications contracts erode Americans' ability to seek justice in the courts by forcing them into a privatized system that is inherently biased in favor of providers and which offers virtually no way to challenge a biased outcome,” said the letter, penned by senators Al Franken, D-Minn., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Edward Markey, D-Mass.

"Forced arbitration requires consumers to sign away their constitutional right to hold providers accountable in court just to access modern-day essentials like mobile phone, internet and pay TV services,” the lawmakers added. 

RELATED: DirecTV reportedly faces 4,000 complaints linked to overcharges, broken promo promises

In their missive, the senators cited a CBS report from last month, which counted nearly 4,200 complaints against AT&T in the last two years for allegedly not living up to advertised prices. 

“The report also highlighted concerns with AT&T's process for handling customer complaints, citing customers who had received inconsistent information from customer service representatives regarding the terms of a particular deal or for the overcharges in monthly bills,” the senators added. “Additionally, the report found that over the past two years, only 18 out of AT&T'S nearly 150 million subscribers sought accountability for these—or other—issues through individual, forced arbitration proceedings.”

The letter asks AT&T to provide a copy of the arbitration clauses that appear in its contracts and to provide clarity as to whether they actually prevent customers from filing class-action suits. Among other things, the senators also want a precise count from AT&T as to how many complaints its received over the last two years, how many of those have been resolved through arbitration process, and how many of the cases have been heard by the same arbitration provider.