Telecommunications company didn’t disclose fee during online sales
OLYMPIA — In the latest action of his office’s Honest Fees Initiative, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today that Connecticut-based telecommunications and mass media company Charter Communications will pay more than $255,000 to Washingtonians after failing to disclose its “Broadcast TV Surcharge” to customers who ordered the company’s services online.
The Attorney General’s Office filed a legally enforceable consent decree ordering Charter Communications to clearly and conspicuously disclose all fees, surcharges, and terms or conditions of its offers to Washington consumers prior to them purchasing service. Today’s announcement resolves the Attorney General’s investigation into the company’s failure to adequately disclose fees on its website.
Thousands of Washington consumers purchased Charter services online without realizing that Charter planned to add a monthly “Broadcast TV Surcharge” to their bill totaling as much as $6.05 per month. They did not realize Charter planned to add this surcharge because Charter did not conspicuously disclose the surcharge at the point of purchase. Charter also failed to disclose the fact that the fee is periodically increased prior to the customer’s purchase.
The $255,660 in consumer restitution will be directly returned to current Washington subscribers who were impacted by the hidden fees through credits on their bills. Thousands of Washingtonians will receive a credit on their bill. Customers who receive a bill credit will get a notice on their bill referencing the Attorney General's consent decree. Every current subscriber who was harmed by Charter’s conduct will receive direct restitution in the form of a credit.
A screenshot of Charter's online order form that did not disclose the Broadcast TV Surcharge.
“Charter told its online consumers they would pay one price, and then charged them a higher price,” Ferguson said. “Hidden fees violate the Consumer Protection Act. I will continue holding powerful interests accountable when their unfair and deceptive conduct costs Washingtonians money – and I will fight to get that money back in the pockets of hardworking Washingtonians.”
The order, filed in Chelan County Superior Court, is part of Attorney General Ferguson’s Honest Fees Initiative, which works to ensure that companies adequately disclose all fees and charges to Washington consumers, and that those fees are lawful. Ferguson asks Washingtonians who believe they have received bills that include undisclosed fees to file a complaint with his office.
The purpose of the case is to provide money back to consumers and to hold Charter accountable for its unfair and deceptive conduct. This resolution accomplishes those goals.
The Attorney General’s Office began its investigation into Charter in 2017, after reviewing their website as part of the office’s Honest Fees Initiative.
Since at least 2012, Charter has charged a monthly “Broadcast TV Surcharge” to Washington cable television customers. The fee reflects charges the company itself is charged by local broadcast stations to carry their stations. Charter periodically increases the surcharge to reflect increases in the fees it must pay local stations.
Until mid-2018, when customers purchased Charter services online, the company did not disclose the Broadcast TV Surcharge. Charter also failed to disclose the fact that the fee is periodically increased prior to the customer’s purchase.
As part of today’s resolution, Charter will return a total of $255,660 in the form of bill credits to current subscribers who subscribed online to Charter’s cable television services since Jan. 1, 2012. The credits must be applied in the next 120 days.
In addition to the bill credits for eligible consumers, Charter is required to:
- Clearly and conspicuously disclose all terms or conditions of its offers to Washington consumers prior to them submitting their orders, including the existence and amount of the Broadcast TV Surcharge, and that it may increase the Broadcast TV Surcharge
- Send an order confirmation within one business day that clearly lays out all pricing, including taxes and fees
- Limit its increases to the Broadcast TV Surcharge to an amount adequate to offset what Charter is being charged by broadcasters
- Retain copies of its online offers for cable television services and make them available to the Attorney General’s Office upon request to ensure compliance for the next four years.
Finally, Charter must pay $739,400 to the State Attorney General’s Office. Attorney General Ferguson will direct part of this payment to the State General Fund. The rest will be used to recoup the cost of the investigation and continue the work of the Honest Fees Initiative.
Assistant Attorneys General Dan Davies and Seann Colgan handled the case for Washington.
Honest Fees Initiative
Ferguson is calling on Washingtonians to check their bills, and, if they believe they contain hidden fees, to file a complaint at the Attorney General’s website here. For more information on filing complaints, visit www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint.
Today’s action against Charter is the third against a cable and internet services provider in the office’s Honest Fees Initiative.
Ferguson took the first major action as part of the initiative in December 2019, when global technology company CenturyLink paid $6.1 million to the State of Washington for adding charges to customer bills without accurately disclosing those fees, and failing to provide discounts that their sales agents had promised customers. Earlier this month, Frontier Communications Northwest paid $900,000 to Washington to resolve an Attorney General’s Office investigation that Frontier did not adequately disclose fees when advertising and selling its products, and misled subscribers about internet speeds it could provide.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.email@example.com
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