MMS Lawsuit Filed Against Apple, AT&T

Apple and AT&T are facing a class-action lawsuit that claims the two companies misrepresented the iPhone’s ability to support MMS messaging.

The suit, recently filed in Louisiana district court under the Unfair Trade Practices Act, alleges that both companies advertise the ability of the iPhone 3GS to support MMS but the feature is not yet available in the U.S. MMS, or Multimedia Message Service, offers a standard way to transmit graphics, video clips, sound files and short text messages over wireless networks

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) launched the iPhone 3GS to much fanfare in June, and MMS is one of the new features advertised that was not included in the older 3G model. AT&T (NYSE: T), the exclusive carrier for the iPhone, at the time said it didn’t yet support the MMS feature, but has said since then that it will do so “by the end of summer.”

Apparently that wasn’t good enough for the plaintiffs, who say 10,000 people will sign on to join the legal action.

“Apple advertised heavily that the new version of the iPhone 3G, as well as the even newer version, the 3GS, would allow MMS. Apple’s print and video advertisements in and on television, the radio, newspapers and direct mailers all touted the availability of MMS,” the document reads.

“Similarly, AT&T advertised that the 3G and 3GS would allow MMS. MMS functionality is one of the reasons people chose to buy or upgrade to a 3G or 3GS,”says the court filing.

The plaintiffs go on to charge that “millions of customers purchased the 3G and 3GS, waiting for the day in June 2009 when the new application would be available which would allow MMS. Unfortunately, after downloading the new 3.0 software update, MMS still did not work.”

Additionally, the suit alleges that AT&T currently does not have the infrastructure to support MMS. It says a call to Apple’s customer support “reveals that AT&T has never upgraded towers” adequately to offer the feature.

The three plaintiffs further allege that the two companies continue to “misrepresent and/or conceal, suppress, or omit material facts to customers in their stores about the MMS functionality of the iPhones.”

The suit defines the “class” as all residents of Louisiana who bought 3G or 3GS iPhones from July of last year to the time of a final settlement.

Additional iPhone issues are in play

Litigation comes at a time when Apple and AT&T are trying to overcome some rough patches in their exclusive partnership: the lack of MMS is joined by the carrier’s inability to support another iPhone feature, tethering, designed to connect the device to a computer or notebook.

AT&T and Apple had not returned calls to comment by press time.

AT&T also came under fire for a controversial upgrade pricing plan, and eventually relented to consumer demand to alter it for existing iPhone users who qualified.

Additionally, customers trying to activate their new phones after launch experienced long delays, prompting Apple to offer iTunes credits and issue an apology.

Meanwhile, AT&T, while being criticized for coverage issues, also tried to placate iPhone owners with capital expenditures aimed at improving dropped call rates in metropolitan areas and increasing data speeds.

The two are also the target of federal government inquiries into the role of exclusive carrier partnerships and how those impact industry competition and services provided to consumers.

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