Oregon has reached a $4 million settlement with global telecommunications company CenturyLink.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced the action in a release Tuesday, Dec. 31 stating that CenturyLink had engaged in deceptive advertising by door-to-door salespeople, deceptive billing practices, undisclosed fees, and failing to apply promised discounts to customer accounts.
Since 2014, Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) has received more than 1,200 consumer complaints about CenturyLink.
The telecommunications company offers services in St. Helens and Clatskanie, as well as in the Portland area and Willamette Valley.
As part of the settlement, CenturyLink also will refund $672,000 to 8,212 Oregonians who were overcharged for their services, or did not receive the promised discount. The impacted Oregon consumers will be contracted by CenturyLink directly, but any consumers with questions can contact the Oregon Attorney General’s Consumer hotline at 877-877-9392.
“Purchasing internet, phone service and cable is confusing enough without false promises, and confusing prices and fees," Rosenblum said. "Today’s settlement sends a clear message that hidden fees and other forms of unfair and deceptive business practices will not be tolerated in Oregon."
Specifically, Oregon consumers complained that CenturyLink charged more than the promised price, or they received multiple bills each month for different amounts, were billed for services after they had cancelled the service, or were billed for modems before they were installed. Consumers also complained about the quality of service, Internet speed that was much slower than what was promised, or Inernet service so slow that it was unusable.
Under the settlement, which was filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, CenturyLink must:
- Stop charging new customers the “Internet Cost Recovery Fee”, a fee that was not always previously disclosed to consumers until they received their first bill.
- Stop charging a “Broadband Cost Recovery Fee”.
- Allow current customers to have an opportunity to transition to another plan without the fee.
- Clearly disclose all mandatory fees and charges in future advertisements.
- Stop charging cancellation and unreturned equipment fees if they are not disclosed at the time of sale.
In February 2014, Oregon DOJ opened an investigation of CenturyLink in response to over 1,000 consumer complaints, including complaints about the company misrepresenting the price of services, failing to inform consumers of terms and conditions that could affect the price, and billing consumers for services they never received. In 2018, complaints about telecommunication services topped Oregon DOJ’s top 10 consumer complaints.
The Chronicle contacted CenturyLink for a response to the DOJ settlement. The following is the company's reply.
"We have appreciated the on-going and productive dialogue with the Oregon 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 an assurance of voluntary compliance to settle disputed claims and avoid the distraction and costs of litigation. CenturyLink looks forward to continuing to serve its Oregon customers consistent with the company’s unifying principles of fairness, honesty and integrity."
Oregon DOJ will continue to lead a separate securities class action lawsuit arising from the same conduct.
Rosenblum asks any Oregonian who believes they have received bills that include undisclosed fees to file a consumer complaint, or contact the Attorney General Consumer Hotline.