Despite two lawsuits, AT&T still says MMS coming by late summer to iPhone

Plaintiffs say sales reps for Apple, AT&T deceived them on MMS availability

For those iPhone 3G and 3GS customers eager to use multimedia messaging (MMS), AT&T Inc. still hasn't gone beyond saying the service will be available by summer's end.

And two recent class-action lawsuits, each seeking more than $5 million in damages, have not motivated the carrier to change its tune on when the service launches.

"We have said since the launch of iPhone 3GS that we plan to offer MMS by the end of the summer," an AT&T spokeswoman repeated today.

She said AT&T would not comment on the lawsuits, and officials at Apple Inc. also declined any comment. Both companies are named in the suits, one filed on Aug. 7 in the federal Eastern District of Louisiana and the other filed Aug. 10 in the federal Southern District of Illinois.

Missouri-based attorney Joel Schwartz would say only that Apple and AT&T have not responded to the lawsuit he filed in Illinois on behalf of client Tim Meeker. "It's early in the case," he said. Schwartz also filed a third similar class-action suit in a state court in St. Louis County, Mo., on behalf of clients Meredith Goette and Raymond Bolourtchi.

Scott Bickford and other attorneys are representing Christopher Carbine, Ryan Casey and Lisa Maurer in the Louisiana case. Bickford could not be reached for comment.

Both federal cases follow similar arguments, stating that AT&T and Apple sales representatives deceived the plaintiffs over the availability of MMS functions, according to the complaints. The Illinois lawsuit is based on alleged violations of the Illinois Deceptive Trade Practices Act, while the Louisiana case is based on alleged violations of the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act.

Despite claims that iPhone 3.0 software, released June 17, would provide MMS for the iPhone 3G and 3GS, the service remains unavailable until late summer, Meeker's complaint says. (The iPhone 3GS shipped on June 19.) "The only excuse offered by AT&T and Apple is a mouseprint disclaimer on the website[s], in barely readable font, which reads "MMS support from AT&T coming in late summer," the Meeker lawsuit says.

Meeker bought an iPhone 3G on March 13 at an AT&T store in Fairview Heights, Ill., and asked if MMS was provided. The store representative "misrepresented and/or concealed, suppressed, or omitted facts as to the iPhone and MMS functionality," according to the complaint. When he tried to download MMS with the 3.0 upgrade, the MMS did not work. He was told by an Apple customer service rep that AT&T had not upgraded its towers and would not do so until late summer.

Meeker also never saw the disclaimer on the Apple or AT&T Web sites and was therefore "damaged in that for many months he had been unable to send MMS messages."

Meeker probably represents a class of at least 100,000 people, according to the complaint.

Similarly, in the Louisiana case, all three defendants bought iPhones separately and were interested in MMS functionality, but store representatives "misrepresented and/or concealed, suppressed or omitted material facts as the to iPhone having MS functionality," according to the complaint. Carbine first inquired about MMS at an Apple store in June, Casey inquired at an AT&T store in December 2008, and Maurer inquired at an Apple store in January. (The store locations were not mentioned.) The size of the class of buyers affected in the Louisiana case is more than 10,000, according to the complaint.

The focus of both lawsuits is on what statements were made or not made by AT&T and Apple store representatives to the plaintiffs. However, Apple Senior Vice President Scott Forstall noted during the World Wide Developer Conference on June 8 that MMS support wouldn't be ready from AT&T at launch, and AT&T followed up to say it would be coming in late summer, which it repeated again today.

Both companies quickly came under attack from customers, developers and consumer rights groups for the delay on MMS, as well as for lack of support for tethering.

Even if AT&T follows through on its late summer commitment for MMS, some observers have suggested the lawsuits will still move forward amid growing criticism of the carrier's support for the iPhone. Both federal lawsuits assert that Apple and AT&T sales representatives are still misrepresenting material facts about MMS functionality.

Correction: A sub headline was changed since this story was originally posted to say that plaintiffs in the lawsuits said sales representatives for Apple Inc. and AT&T Inc. deceived them regarding MMS availability. The headline had said that defendants made the claim.

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