A judge in California has ruled that mobile network operator Sprint Nextel could have to pay out as much as $72m over contract termination fees.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Sabraw issued a preliminary ruling that Sprint Nextel's practice of charging fees ranging from $150 to $200 for ending a mobile phone contract violated state laws.
Judge Sabraw said that the company will have to pay $18.2m to settle a class-action lawsuit and should stop trying to collect another $54.7m from customers.
"We are disappointed, but this is a tentative decision and we are focusing now on our response to the court," said Sprint spokesman Matthew Sullivan.
The ruling is not final, as the judge has allowed lawyers from Sprint Nextel to file a rebuttal.
But the decision will add impetus to plans by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to act on termination fees.
FCC chairman Kevin Martin has already announced tentative plans to rule on prorating fees so that termination costs fall through the lifetime of the contract.
T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon Wireless already do this, and Sprint has said that it will implement a similar plan shortly.
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