Frontier Communications is on the hook to pay $750,000 as part of an agreement with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison that settles a complaint stemming from alleged "deceptive, misleading and fraudulent practices" related to the telco's billing and sale of Internet services.
Among specific allegations, the state AG office claimed Frontier sold Minnesota customers expensive Internet services with max speeds that were not attainable, and that the telco improperly advertised its service as "reliable," when it did not provide enough bandwidth for customers to consistently receive their expected service.
Per the settlement, Frontier will take these additional steps:
- Clearly disclose important terms of its Internet service to potential customers at the time service is sold, including the exact "base price" of service, estimated taxes, fees, surcharges and one-time fees and recurring charges.
- Provide all new customers with a written order confirmation that identifies the customer's total expected charges and provides customers with the ability to cancel service without charge before installation.
- Reform sales and advertising practices to ensure customers are informed of Internet speeds at their specific location.
- Notify existing customers who are not receiving maximum Internet speeds they are paying for and allow them to change to lower-priced plans or discontinue service at no cost.
- Ensure that every customer's max Internet speed is at least 90% of the max speed advertised in the service plan.
- Invest at least $10 million over four years to improve Frontier's broadband network. That amount is in addition to any money the telco may receive from outside government grants and its current commitments for improvements.
Frontier filed for bankruptcy prior to entering the settlement. The Minnesota Department of Commerce filed a separate report with the state Public Utilities Commission finding that Frontier failed to provide adequate, reliable phone and internet service to customers in the state. The Attorney General's settlement does not impact the Department's or the PUC's investigation.
The Minnesota settlement follows a similar one that Frontier agreed to with the Washington state AG's office that requires the telco to pay $900,000 to resolve an investigation that was launched in 2018.
Ellison's office settled similar investigations into CenturyLink and Comcast earlier this year. CenturyLink agreed to pay $8.9 million for allegations that it overbilled Minnesota consumers. Comcast was required to pay out $1.14 million in refunds, $160,000 to the state's AG office for the purpose of refunds and to wipe clean the debt for about 16,000 former Comcast customers who were charged an early termination fee after they downgraded or canceled their services while locked into a contract.
"With this settlement with Frontier, and following the resolution of our lawsuits against CenturyLink and Comcast/Xfinity, now most Minnesotans can trust that they'll be getting what they paid for from their telecoms providers, and that they're paying what they were promised and no more," Ellison said in a statement.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading, special to Broadband World News