DirecTV (finally) admits to RSN surcharge errors, says it will issue refunds

AT&T responded to a simple billing system error with a communications strategy that appeared circus-like to some.

After a week of hazy, bizarre responses, AT&T finally admitted to incorrectly billing some customers' surcharges for regional sports networks they do not owe. 

“We have identified a small percentage of customers who are receiving some inaccurate bills for regional sports network fees,” AT&T said in a statement to nonprofit advocacy site The Consumerist. “We are working as quickly as possible to notify those customers and issue credits. We apologize for the error.”

According to the site, the mea culpa was finally issued after an affected customer got through to the office of AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. 

RELATED: Mystery solved? DirecTV says its online RSN surcharge tool is broken

Last week, The Consumerist published a complaint from this same Phoenix, Arizona, DirecTV customer, who wondered why she was paying $7.29 a month in RSN surcharges when other DirecTV customers in other ZIP codes just blocks away were paying nothing. 

A publicly accessible website (since redirected to a DirecTV promotional page) allowed users to punch in their ZIP code and find out what their fee is. Following up, tech blog Ars Technica earlier this week also found wild billing discrepancies in Chicago and Philadelphia. Surcharges in these cities varied, even though customers were receiving the same channels. 

While stopping short of obstreperous, AT&T’s slow progression of responses exacerbated confusion and kept the story going. 

"The fees vary because they are based on a variety of factors, including the number of channels, the content in the channels, as well as the cost to deliver them,” AT&T told Ars Technica early on.

Later, with FierceCable also seeking clarity on the matter, an AT&T rep said, "The website has inaccurate information and we are looking into it. The website has been temporarily taken down until a fix is in place. We apologize for the inaccurate information.”

The website remained up for at least another 24 hours, and AT&T said nothing to address the fact that some customers had actually been bogusly charged based on the inaccurate information.

Finally, with the story simmering in the tech press for days, the Phoenix woman identified by The Consumerist as “Connie” managed to get through to Stephenson, and put an end to this strategic communications circus act.