By Mike Boyer
Enquirer staff writer
Thousands of Cincinnati Bell Wireless customers have been charged illegal "roaming" fees on their monthly bills for years, according to a lawsuit in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
The suit, which seeks class-action status, claims the unit of Cincinnati Bell Inc. "for some time has been aware it is consistently charging its subscribers inappropriately and incorrectly for roaming."
According to its rate plan, Cincinnati Bell charges roaming fees only when customers make or receive calls outside its Greater Cincinnati calling area or outside the national AT&T Wireless Network.
The contested roaming fees can be a few cents or a few dollars a month on a customers' bills, said Fritz Shadley, one of the attorneys who filed the suit this week on behalf of a Rising Sun, Ind., customer.
Shadley said the company would credit customers' bills when they called to complain, indicating it knew there was a problem.
"What is disappointing is they knew what was involved. They knew how to solve it from a billing standpoint, but they didn't do it," he said.
Cincinnati Bell Wireless has about 500,000 customers in the Cincinnati-Dayton area. A Cincinnati Bell spokeswoman said the company has a copy of the lawsuit and is studying it. She said the company doesn't comment on pending litigation.
In some cases, Shadley said customers may not be aware they're being hit with the fees or figured the hassle of calling the company to complain and seek a credit wasn't worth it.
A customer who complained repeatedly is Ron Mehl of Liberty Township.
Although the wireless plan contract Mehl signed last February called for no roaming fees on calls around Cincinnati, he said, "Each month there would be charges for roaming on my bill. I'd call and they'd reverse the charges.
"Some months the charges would be as small as 35 cents and some months they would be $4. The highest was $11."
He said the roaming charges stopped after he wrote Jack Cassidy, Cincinnati Bell's president, last month.
"I wonder how many other Cincinnati Bell Wireless customers they're messing around with," he said.
Mehl, who does computer programming, said, "I think they could have fixed the problem with a billing program change."
Cincinnati Bell recently reached an agreement to acquire the 19.9 percent stake in its wireless network that AT&T Wireless now owns. Cingular Wireless is acquiring AT&T.
As a result of that agreement, Cincinnati Bell recently told customers it has expanded its network of wireless towers.
The incorrect billing problems apparently occurred when a tower other than Cincinnati Bell's picked up a customer's call. The call would be treated in Bell's billing systems as a roaming call even though it was received or placed in Greater Cincinnati.
The suit seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages and attorneys' fees.
Shadley's firm and Loveland lawyer John Ipsaro, who also brought the lawsuit, have created a Web site, www.checkyourcellbill.com, to get information from Cincinnati Bell Wireless customers who think they have been overcharged.
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