SEATTLE -- One of the nation's largest Internet service providers has agreed to change the way it deals with new customers acquired through its purchase of smaller ISPs, Attorney General Christine Gregoire announced today.
In papers filed in King County Superior Court, Earthlink -- which claims about 5 million customers nationwide -- agreed to the new standards, which were negotiated over the last several months with the Attorney General's High Tech Unit.
The agreement was necessary, Gregoire said, because of the number of consumer complaints received by her office since 2001, when the company started acquiring ISPs. The Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division has received about 100 Earthlink complaints, mostly from customers who were billed for Earthlink service they did not sign up for, she said.
The agreement will affect all newly-acquired Earthlink customers, regardless of where they live.
"Consumers have the right to choose whom they will select as their Internet service providers. This agreement ensures they will get that choice, and the information necessary to make informed decisions," Gregoire said.
"Earthlink has accepted responsibility and is committed to dealing fairly with its new customers. Hopefully, other Internet service providers will follow Earthlink's lead," she added.
Under the agreement, Earthlink will:
- Only acquire customer accounts from purchased ISPs if the customer has used the account within 30 days.
- Require that purchased ISPs tell their customers of the impending sale to Earthlink and what it means to them.
- Maintain a toll-free number for consumers.
- Mail information to consumers describing any changes in the terms of service.
- Mail information to consumers with instructions on how to log on to the Earthlink system and how to cancel.
- Call newly acquired customers who have not logged on to tell them of the impending change of service, any new terms of service and to provide the toll-free number for questions.
- Provide refunds to customers who pay for but don't use their new Earthlink service, and one-month refunds for those who have used the service but who decide to cancel.