Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Attorney General Swanson Sues CenturyLink for Billing Higher Amounts than its Sales Agents Quoted to Customers for Internet and Cable Service
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed a lawsuit today against CenturyLink—the Louisiana phone, cable, and internet company—for billing higher amounts than its sales agents quoted customers for internet and cable television service. The company often refused to honor the prices quoted to consumers who catch the discrepancies on their bills.
“Shopping for internet and cable TV service isn’t easy if companies don’t give straight answers about the prices they will charge,” said Attorney General Swanson. She noted that internet and cable television companies aggressively compete for business with one another and that many consumers try to shop for the lowest prices.
The complaint cites numerous examples of consumers who were quoted one price but charged another. For example, a man from Blaine was quoted a base monthly rate of $39.97 for cable service, but was charged a base rate of $71.97 per month instead. A man from Columbia Heights was quoted a base monthly rate of $14.95 for internet service, but was charged a base rate of $29.95 per month instead.
The company’s internal records acknowledge this problem. For example, in one e-mail from 2015, a company employee described receiving “so many” complaints every day and that “maybe 1 out of 5 are quoted correctly or close enough. I have one today quoted $39 and its [sic] over $100 monthly. So I tend to get on the defensive for the customer at times because of the large amount that are misquoted. As in many cases, the customer calls in for several months and [is] promised call backs, passed around, or cut off before going to the AG, PUC, FCC or BBB . . . .”
Another company employee lamented on a recording that “there are not enough people to do the work” of responding to complaints and that she had a “whole pile of Minnesota [complaints] to go through .... they usually come in groups of ten.”
CenturyLink often refuses to honor the prices quoted to consumers who discover the discrepancies. CenturyLink gives varying excuses to Minnesota consumers as to why it will not honor the prices quoted to them, such as:
- a company employee told a customer “you were misquoted,” but that “I can’t give it [the quoted price] to you, no one can”;
- a company employee told a customer that its offers are “not binding”;
- a company employee told a customer that the company’s discounts need not be honored because they are “a gift from us to you”;
- A company employee told a customer that the previous agent she spoke with didn’t “even know what offers we have to offer in the first place.”
The Attorney General’s Office encourages consumers who are shopping for cable or internet service to ask for all details about the service they are purchasing, including the total monthly price (with all taxes, fees, and surcharges); the length of time the price is valid; and any exceptions that might increase the amount they will be charged. Consumers should ask the company to confirm its offer in writing.
The lawsuit was filed in Anoka County District Court against the following companies: CenturyTel Broadband Services LLC, d/b/a CenturyLink Broadband; Qwest Broadband Services, Inc., d/b/a CenturyLink; and Qwest Corporation, d/b/a CenturyLink QC. It seeks injunctive relief, restitution, and civil penalties.
People may report complaints to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office by calling (651) 296-3353 (Twin Cities Metro Area) or (800) 657-3787 (Outside the Twin Cities), or by emailing Attorney.General@ag.state.mn.us. If you email, please provide your name, address and phone number. People may also download a Complaint Form from the Attorney General’s Office website and mail the completed form to the Attorney General’s Office at: 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400, Saint Paul, MN 55101-2131.
Internet and Television Service Bait and Switch
Most people want the best rate they can get for internet or cable television or satellite television service. Some providers offer aggressive promotions that claim to save you money. But watch out, as these providers may try a “bait and switch” scheme that causes you not to receive the promised rate.