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CenturyLink to pay nearly $8.5 million to Colorado and customers for 'hidden fees' and overbilling

 Photo courtesy: MGN
Photo courtesy: MGN (KKTV)
Published: Dec. 19, 2019 at 3:20 PM MST
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Colorado's attorney general announced on Thursday CenturyLink will pay more than $8 million to the state and some customers for "unfairly and deceptively charging hidden fees, falsely advertising guaranteed locked prices, and failing to provide discounts and refunds it promised to consumers who signed up for internet, television, and telephone services in Colorado."

“One of CenturyLink’s main selling points is that its prices are low and affordable. Yet, we received hundreds of complaints from consumers that their bills were more than the advertised price or the price that sales agents quoted them. This sticker shock often was a result of misleading hidden fees, overcharges for services, and CenturyLink’s failure to deliver discounts that they promised to consumers when they signed up for services,” explained Attorney General Phil Weiser in a press release. “CenturyLink’s conduct broke the law: they deceived consumers by telling them they would pay one price, and then charging them more. The settlement we are announcing today holds CenturyLink accountable and provides relief to consumers they harmed with their deceptive conduct.”

According to the release, CenturyLink:

- Misled customers about the cost of its internet service by creating a disguised surcharge called an Internet Cost Recovery Fee that started at $.99 and was increased to $3.99 over the course of three years.

- Falsely advertised “price lock” and “fixed price” contracts while fully intending to charge customers more than the advertised price.

Example:

a 2015 mailer offered internet services for $19.95 per month and guaranteed that the price would be locked in for five years. However, CenturyLink charged more than the advertised price by adding the Internet Cost Recovery Fee, and then later increased the overcharge by increasing the fee.

- Had complex promotional pricing schemes and outdated billing system resulted in routine misquotes to consumers.

- Sometimes billed customers more than twice the rate that it had promised the consumer, and in many cases, it did not deliver the promised discounts.

- When customers ended service with CenturyLink, the company sometimes failed to deliver a refund for the returned equipment, and only gave a refund when customers called and proved that they had returned the equipment.

Under an agreement filed in Denver District Court Thursday, CenturyLink will refund customers $1,701,000 for overbilling errors by March 31, 2020. In addition, CenturyLink will pay $6,775,000 to the State of Colorado for violating the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.

According to the state attorney general's office:

To protect consumers from any future such violations, CenturyLink has agreed to:

- Disclose the actual price of its services, including charges and fees, at the time of sale and in sales materials and advertising;

- Send the customer an “Order Confirmation” that includes a complete bill summary within three days after a customer orders services from CenturyLink;

- Stop adding the Internet Cost Recovery Fee to future orders; and

- Stop charging unreturned equipment fees to customers who return equipment on time.

CenturyLink must also submit compliance reports to the Consumer Protection Section of the Attorney General’s Office for three years, and must keep all sales call recordings and written sales correspondence for two years.

CenturyLink will handle dispersing the refunds to customers. The company has until March 31, 2020 to do so.

CenturyLink did not clarify who will receive money, but Mark Molzen with CenturyLink sent us the following statement:

"We have appreciated the on-going and productive dialogue with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. While we disagree with the Attorney General’s position, we believe it is in the best interests of our company and our customers to amicably resolve these matters. Toward that end, CenturyLink has entered into a consent decree to settle disputed claims and avoid the distraction and costs of litigation. CenturyLink looks forward to continuing to serve its Colorado customers consistent with the company’s unifying principles of fairness, honesty and integrity. CenturyLink has issued credits to current Colorado consumers as described in our agreement with the State, and we are in the process of making payments to former customers. CenturyLink will comply its obligations under the settlement."

Any remaining funds that aren't issued to customers will go to the state and be used to protect Coloradans from fraud or violations of the state’s antitrust laws that thwart competition and harm consumers, and for other appropriate purposes.

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