Verizon Wireless said Sunday it will pay up to $90 million in refunds to 15 million cell phone customers who were wrongly charged for data sessions or Internet use, one of the largest-ever customer refunds by a telecommunications company.
The company’s statement came as Verizon Wireless held talks with the Federal Communications Commission about complaints of unauthorized charges and after questions about a possible settlement of an F.C.C. investigation into the issue.
Verizon said in its statement that 15 million customers either will receive either credits ranging from $2 to $6 on their October or November bills or, in the case of former customers, refund checks.
In its statement, Verizon Wireless said that the charges affected customers who did not have data usage plans but who were nevertheless billed because of data exchanges initiated by software built into their phones or because of mistaken charges for inadvertent episodes of Web access.
In the last three years, the F.C.C. has received hundreds of complaints from Verizon Wireless customers who said they were charged for data usage or Web access at times when their phones were not in use or when they mistakenly pushed a button that was preprogrammed to instantly active the phone’s Web browser. Beginning in 2009, The New York Times and The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, among other publications, reported that customers had been complaining of the charges but had often been ignored by Verizon Wireless.
People close to the settlement talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity said they expected the refunds to total more than $50 million.
“Verizon Wireless values our customer relationships and we always want to do the right thing for our customers,” Mary Coyne, deputy general counsel for Verizon Wireless, said in the statement.
The announcement of the refunds might not end the issue for Verizon. People close to the talks said the F.C.C. had been pressing the company to enter into an agreement to pay a penalty for the unauthorized charges, which would serve as a deterrent for companies that might discover similar circumstances but fail to alert customers in a timely manner.