Impacted Washingtonians will be eligible for financial restitution
OLYMPIA — In the latest action of his office’s Honest Fees Initiative, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today that Frontier Communications Northwest will pay $900,000 to the State of Washington. The payment resolves an Attorney General’s Office investigation that Frontier Northwest did not adequately disclose fees when advertising and selling its products, and misled subscribers about internet speeds it could provide. Frontier’s unlawful deception impacted thousands of Washington consumers.
The Attorney General’s Office began its investigation into Frontier Northwest in 2018 after receiving more than 600 complaints about the company. The investigation included reviews of Frontier Northwest’s website and advertising as part of the office’s Honest Fees Initiative.
At its peak, Frontier Northwest served more than 165,000 internet customers, primarily in rural areas of Washington state.
As part of the legally binding agreement, the internet, phone and television provider is ordered to clearly and conspicuously disclose all fees. To resolve Ferguson’s investigation, Frontier Northwest is also required to be transparent about its available internet speeds. The Attorneys Office will set aside the majority of the $900,000 payment to provide restitution to impacted customers.
“Broadband access is integral to our daily lives,” Ferguson said. “The current pandemic has only amplified its importance. Knowing the true cost and speed of our internet connection is essential to make an informed decision about a service that connects us to our work and to each other. Companies must be able to deliver what they promise, at the price they advertise.”
The order, which will be filed in Thurston 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 Attorney General’s investigation focused on Frontier Northwest’s failure to adequately disclose fees during sales of cable, internet and phone services since 2016. For example, the company charged as much as $3.99 — nearly $50 per year — for an “Internet Infrastructure Surcharge,” without adequately disclosing the surcharge in its advertising.
The binding agreement also addresses Frontier Northwest’s misrepresentations to consumers about the internet speeds it could offer, and its failure to deliver speeds and service it had advertised.
As part of the agreement, Frontier Northwest will pay the Attorney General’s Office $900,000, the majority of which will be set aside for restitution for impacted Frontier Northwest customers. There will be a claims process to determine eligibility for restitution. The Attorney General’s Office will announce details of the claims process when they are finalized. Washingtonians who have filed complaints with the Attorney General’s Office about Frontier Northwest will be directly notified of the claims process.
In addition to paying $900,000 to Washington, Frontier Northwest is required to clearly disclose fees and surcharges in its advertisements. It is also required to make clear and conspicuous disclosures in advertising about the internet speeds it is able to offer. In addition, it must stop charging its “Internet Infrastructure Surcharge.”
Frontier Northwest is also required to clearly disclose to potential customers:
- The monthly base price of the services
- The estimated amount of taxes, fees or other recurring charges for the services
- The amount of each one-time fee, or fee charged only on the customer’s first invoice, for the purchased services, including activation and installation fees and equipment purchases
- Any applicable cancellation or termination fees
Within three business days after a sale, Frontier must send the customer an order confirmation that clearly sets forth the pricing and terms and conditions of service.
In May of this year, Northwest Fiber purchased Frontier Northwest. As a condition of the sale, the Washington Utilities & Transportation Commission approved a sale agreement that requires Northwest Fiber to invest $50 million to improve and expand Frontier’s broadband infrastructure. If the company fails to fulfill that commitment, the legally binding agreement includes up to 18 additional requirements on Frontier.
Assistant Attorneys General Daniel Davies, Heidi Anderson and Lynda Atkins, in addition to former AAG Tiffany Lee, 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 Frontier is the second 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.
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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; firstname.lastname@example.org
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