Your schools might be entitled to refunds from Apple Computer Inc. if you paid for tech support that was supposed to be free under the “Apple Assurance” program.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced on Jan. 26 that Apple had agreed to reimburse thousands of customers who were charged $35 each time they called for tech support starting in October 1997. Apple also agreed to resume providing the free assistance it had promised for products bought between 1992 and 1996.

Confirm nor deny

In an interview with eSchool News, Apple spokeswoman Rhona Hamilton said she could neither confirm nor deny that schools had been offered the free support as consumers had been. If schools were indeed charged for telephone support that was supposed to have been free, she said, then schools, too, would be eligible for refunds.

The Apple Assurance program guaranteed free technical support for as long as customers owned specific equipment.

The FTC didn’t specify how much the settlement will cost Apple or how many machines were sold under the Apple Assurance program. But if schools were offered the guarantee as an incentive to buy its machines–and then were charged for those support phone calls–it could cost the company a bundle.

Linda Badger, an FTC attorney, told eSchool News that Apple will have to file a report detailing its reimbursements, which she expects to be “significant.”

According to Quality Education Data (QED), Apple sold millions of desktop computers to schools between 1992 and 1996–not to mention the printers, scanners, and laptops also covered by the Apple Assurance program.

“For prospective purchasers of computer products, free access to live technical support is especially enticing,” said Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement. “Companies that make such offers have to live up to their promises.”

More than 100 products

Apple’s settlement with the FTC applies to the more than 100 models of products that were covered by the Apple Assurance guarantee. That includes Performas, PowerMacs, PowerBooks, and Macintoshes. A complete list of the products appears in the list at left.

“The fact is that they made a lifetime promise, and they need to honor it,” said Matthew D. Gold, the FTC attorney in San Francisco who handled the case.

Industry analysts are saying, however, that most consumers have probably moved on to newer products and won’t need technical support for the older models.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, Apple also faces a class-action lawsuit over the matter. Martin W. Anderson, an attorney in Santa Ana, Calif., told the newspaper that he and Apple are close to a settlement.

Anderson, who is seeking damages for all customers who were affected by Apple’s change in policy, said the FTC agreement would help his case. Before changing its policy of providing free tech support, Apple had “hyped the free services on its web site and in its advertising,” said Anderson.

That change in policy, however, was not so well-publicized. In October 1997, Apple reportedly announced it would no longer provide personal toll-free assistance under the program and would instead begin charging customers $35 a call.

The release announcing the change didn’t say the company would be stopping the free service, according to the Mercury News, but merely said it would adopt the same policy as Microsoft.

“Adopting Microsoft’s $35 per call support policy will enable us to do an even better job of supporting our customers,” the release said, quoting Steve Jobs, Apple interim chief executive.

In the wake of the FTC settlement, Apple has said it will mail refund checks or will credit a customer’s bank account for any amount paid for technical support under the Apple Assurance program. The payments probably will begin after the FTC’s order goes into effect late in March, according to Hamilton.

You can call (800) SOS-APPL (767-2775) for more information about the Apple Assurance coverage and refund.

FTC’s list of Apple products

Apple Computer

Equipment affected by FTC ruling:

Performa 200

Performa 400

Performa 405

Performa 410

Performa 430

Performa 450

Performa 460

Performa 466

Performa 467

Performa 475

Performa 476

Performa 520

Performa 550

Performa 560

Performa 575

Performa 577

Performa 578

Performa 580

Performa 600

Performa 630

Performa 631

Performa 635

Performa 636

Performa 637

Performa 638

Performa 640

Performa 5200

Performa 5210

Performa 5215

Performa 5220

Performa 5300

Performa 5320

Performa 6110

Performa 6112

Performa 6115

Performa 6116

Performa 6117

Performa 6118

Performa 6200

Performa 6205

Performa 6210

Performa 6214

Performa 6216

Performa 6218

Performa 6220

Performa 6230

Performa 6290

Performa 6300

Performa 6310

PowerMac 5200

PowerMac 5300

PowerMac 6100

PowerMac 6200

PowerMac 7100

PowerMac 7200

PowerMac 7500

PowerMac 8100

PowerMac 8500

PowerMac 9500

PowerBook 145

PowerBook 150

PowerBook 160

PowerBook 165

PowerBook 180

PowerBook 190

PowerBook Duo 210

PowerBook Duo 230

PowerBook Duo 250

PowerBook Duo 270

PowerBook Duo 280

PowerBook 520

PowerBook 540

PowerBook Duo 2300

PowerBook 5300

Messagepad 100

Messagepad 110

Messagepad 120

Macintosh Color Classic

Macintosh IIvx

Macintosh LC 475

Macintosh LC 520

Macintosh LC 550

Macintosh LC 575

Macintosh LC 580

Macintosh LC 630

Macintosh TV

Quadra 605

Centris/Quadra 610

Quadra 630

Centris/Quadra 650

Centris/Quadra 660

Quadra 800

Quadra 840

Quadra 950

LaserWriter Select 300

LaserWriter Select 310

LaserWriter Personal 320

LaserWriter Select 360

LaserWriter Pro 600

LaserWriter Pro 630

LaserWriter Pro 810

StyleWriter 1500

StyleWriter 2200

StyleWriter 2400

StyleWriter 2500

StyleWriter 1200

Macintosh LC III (+)

LaserWriter II (f,g)

Personal LaserWriter NT,NTR)

StyleWriter II

Personal LaserWriter (LS, SC)

LaserWriter 16/ 600 Color

LaserWriter 12/600

Portable StyleWriter

Apple OneScanner

Apple Color OneScanner

Apple Color OneScanner/27 600

Apple Color Printer

Duo Dock (II, Plus)

AppleColor High-Res RGB

AppleColor RGB

AppleVision 1710 (AV) 1710

Apple AudioVision 14

Apple Basic Color

Apple Color Plus Display

Apple High-Res Mono

Apple Multiple Scan 14

Apple Multiple Scan 15

Apple Multiple Scan 20

Macintosh 12-inch Mono

Macintosh 12-inch RGB

Macintosh 16-inch Color

Macintosh 21-inch Color

Macintosh Color 14 Display

Macintosh Portrait Display

Macintosh Two-Page Mono

Performa Display

Performa Plus Display

QuickTake Camera 100

QuickTake Camera 150

QuickTake Camera for Windows 150

LaserWriter Personal 320

LaserWriter 4/600

ImageWriter II