Publik vs. AT&T: The Matt Spaccarelli Story
I first heard the name Matt Spaccarelli on Friday, February 24th. A friend sent me a link to an article on HackerNews about a guy fighting AT&T in small claims court and winning. Matt’s phone number was buried in the comments. I called him that night and left him an excited message—relaying the fact that I had recently started a company to help regular people fight unfair policies with big corporations and that I wanted to talk to him ASAP.
When we first connected, the first thing Matt said to me was that he was “just a regular guy” who was very surprised by the amount of attention he had received for what seemed to him to be a fairly straight forward action.
“You have to understand,” he told me, “I live in a 24 foot RV trailer. Last week I was helping my brother on the track in his field. This week I was on one news channel at 10pm and another at 11pm.”
Matt was a longtime AT&T customer. He signed a two-year service contract for an iPhone with unlimited data. He said AT&T began throttling his service after he had used 1.5 gigabytes to 2 gigabytes of data within a new billing cycle.
He researched his case for a few months before making the decision to take the company to the Ventura County Small Claims Court. The standard AT&T service contract prevents customers from forming class-action lawsuits but allows for binding arbitration and judgments in small claims court.
Taking the company to court was not Matt’s first instinct. He first attempted to deal directly with the company, shuffling back and forth between customer service representatives and finally reaching out to their Executive Customer Service Center.
Finally, after no resolution could be achieved, Matt told a customer service rep that he intended to pursue the matter in court. The AT&T representative had no response and he was surprised he didn’t hear anything when he began the proceedings. According to Matt, it wasn’t until the day before the court date that a company paralegal sent him a brief outlining the company’s response. Matt would later say that the document ended up being vital in helping him rebut the company’s claims in court.
The trial itself was relatively short. Matt represented himself as no lawyers are permitted in small claims. (Read how Matt won) Peter Harlove, a local district manager represented AT&T. Harlove argued that his employer has the right to modify or cancel customers’ contracts if their data usage adversely affects the network.
Matt’s case centered on “justifiable reliance” (Read Matt’s case notes) demonstrating that AT&T’s claim that it was the “fastest network” meant it’s act of throttling customers was false advertising. He further rebutted AT&T’s claim that his usage was slowing other user’s speeds by pointing out his rural location, off-peak usage times and the relatively small amount of traffic experienced by the cell tower nearest him was experiencing.
At one point even demonstrated to Pro-tem Judge Russell Nadel the type of activity that the company discouraged—playing NBC’s The Office in court from his iPhone.
Though he was fairly confident the judge would rule in his favor based on the merits of his claim, Matt claims he was “in shock” when the judge actually said the words.
“All I hear was the judge saying that he agreed with me…I had to ask someone how much money I had actually won.”
Matt quickly began receiving inquiries from the press and other people who were curious to understand how he was able to achieve a victory against one of the largest companies in the world.
But despite the press on his case and the fact that the judge ruled in his favor, AT&T has yet to pay Matt the $850 dollars he is owed. He has received no communication directly from the company but AT&T spokesman Marty Richter has said the company is evaluating whether to appeal and claims, “At the end of the day, [AT&T’s] contract governs [their} relationship with customers.”
On Tuesday I flew out to meet Matt in person and find out exactly what drove him to pursue his case.
My cofounder, Jim England and a cameraman accompanied me to meet Matt at his family’s home in rural Simi Valley.
He came off as charismatic and funny, and extremely knowledgeable in the details and issues that surround this case. It is clear that he is passionate not only about his particular case but about making it easier for others to achieve a resolution with the company.
We filmed Matt telling his story in hopes of encouraging others to fight their own individual battles.
On the plane from Austin to Los Angeles I sat next to a guy who had has his home foreclosed on by a major bank. He recounted his experience of receiving a phone call from the bank during which they offered him $10,000 dollars to move out of his house by a particular date. He told the bank he needed to discuss the matter with his wife and when he called them back to indicate he would accept the deal, the bank informed him that the delay in his response meant that he could only receive $7,000 dollars. Eventually the offer dwindled to $1,000 dollars.
When I told the man on the plane the reason I was going to L.A. he told me that he was glad that their were people like Matt who would fight for what they believe in.
Looking back 9 months to the first time I daydreamed of building PublikDemand as a voice for the people, I had no idea how much each individual story would personally affect me. I understood that there were multitudes of people who had experienced poor service and bad policy but I underestimated the personal impact and even demoralization that can come from a big company telling you that you don’t matter.
I too am thankful that there are people like Matt out there who will pick up their slingshots and fight for what is right. Please support Matt and the many others who are asking AT&T to change their data throttling practices. Sign the demand here.
*The full footage of Matt recounting his story will be posted soon.