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Lawsuit Claims Walmart, TracFone Mislead Phone Customers

Walmart(SAN FRANCISCO) -- A class action suit filed last week in U.S. District Court for Northern California claims that consumers who buy Straight Talk cellphone plans aren't getting straight talk: The plans, advertised as providing "unlimited" data use, in fact have limitations, the suit claims.

The complaint against Walmart Stores and TracFone Wireless, which jointly created Straight Talk in 2009, says that the advertising claim is false, and that customers are routinely subject to having their flows of data "throttled" (slowed) or to having their access to data terminated without notice.

Throttling takes place, according to the complaint, when subscribers near or exceed "internally established, but undisclosed" data usage limits, or when the strain imposed on wireless networks by peak data usage requires easing.

The complaint says customers who objected to being "throttled" were blamed by TracFone service reps for having misused the data service, without being told how they had allegedly misused it.

As an example, the suit cites Northern California wireless customer Edward Tooley, who switched to Straight Talk's unlimited plan from a competitor's plan that expressly limited him to 2.5GB of high speed data, above which ceiling his data would be throttled.

He used his Straight Talk plan to access email, browse websites, navigate via Google Maps, "occasionally stream music" and "occasionally watch videos," says the complaint.  Within only a few days of his having activated his service, says the complaint, he found his data being throttled to extremely low speeds without warning.  His service later was terminated without notice.

The suit claims there are enough Tooleys among TracFone's more than 23 million subscribers to constitute a class.  TracFone, it says, is the fifth largest wireless carrier in the U.S.  It describes Walmart as the exclusive retailer of TracFone plans.

A TracFone spokesman, contacted by ABC News, said the company does not comment on current litigation.  A request for comment from Walmart got no response.

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