A monopoly abuse lawsuit against Apple Inc and AT&T Inc's mobile-phone unit can continue as a class action against the two companies, the Associated Press reported, citing a federal judge. AT&T, the biggest U.S. phone company by revenue and the exclusive U.S. provider for iPhone, has come under withering criticism from iPhone users over its network quality since the smartphone went on sale in 2007.

The agency said an amended complaint filed in June 2008 deals with Apple's practice of “locking” iPhones with AT&T's network and its control over the applications that can be installed on its smartphone. The lawsuit also consolidates those filed by iPhone buyers starting in late 2007. Parts of the lawsuit that deal with violations to antitrust law can continue as a class action, Judge James Ware of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said in court documents filed on July 8, AP said. Reuters was not able to contact Apple and AT&T out of regular U.S. office hours.

The lawsuit — which includes any iPhone buyer with a two-year AT&T agreement since June 2007 — also says Apple secretly made AT&T its exclusive iPhone partner in the U.S. for five years, dampening competition and driving up prices. Early in June, AT&T announced plans to stop offering its unlimited pricing plan for new subscribers to its mobile data services, in an effort to improve the speed of its network by cutting down on network-clogging downloads. According to the lawsuit, consumers found themselves locked into a five-year relationship with AT&T, AP said. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to keep Apple from selling locked iPhones in the U.S. and from determining what iPhone programs people can install. It also seeks damages to cover legal fees and other costs, the report said.

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