MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Cable and internet consumers are inundated with offers for the highest speeds and lowest prices.
But none lead to more consumer complaints than the sales pitches from CenturyLink.
Attorney General Lori Swanson alleges that CenturyLink is defrauding customers with deceptive sales tactics; offering one price, then billing a much higher one.
“In this dynamic market, consumers can’t shop around for the best price if they’re not given straight answers about what those prices are,” Swanson said.
The lawsuit cites numerous examples of consumers who were quoted one price but later charged another. A Blaine man said he was quoted a base monthly rate of $39.97 for cable service, but soon discovered on his monthly bill that he was paying $71.97 per month instead.
Another customer from Columbia Heights was quoted a monthly rate of $14.95 for internet service, but was charged a base rate of $29.95 per month instead.
Customers like Richard Thompson say they feel tricked and misled.
“The price they gave me, which is a contract, and the price that they gave me in a bill, which is almost impossible to understand, is totally different,” Thompson said.
Brandon Trampe was charged double when his first bill arrived. And when he called the company to complain, he was told the deal wasn’t binding.
A recorded phone conversation acquired by the state reveals the customer service agent saying, “That was a misquote [because] I can’t give it to you for $14.95 at all.”
In fact, an internal memo between CenturyLink employees acknowledged the problem. The email released to the public has a reference to the degree of the problem. The employee admits that that only one in five customers is quoted and billed correctly.
Another phone conversation reveals the CenturyLink agent telling a customer, “You can’t get that price, nobody at CenturyLink can give you that price.”
The Louisiana-based company issued a statement Wednesday:
We have been cooperating with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office since its inquiry began and have provided all information requested.
We are disappointed that the Attorney General has chosen a press conference to communicate her concerns instead of contacting CenturyLink directly.
We take these allegations seriously and will review and respond in due course.
Thompson says he is glad that so many complaints are now headed to district court.
“My mother isn’t going to fight this. My uncles wouldn’t fight this, my neighbors may not fight this, but somebody has to fight this,” Thompson said.
Other states are fighting CenturyLink’s sales practices as well, including Arizona and California.
A class action suit in California seeks punitive damages, as plaintiffs allege the company made false promises and engaged in fraudulent billing, similar to the actions alleged in Minnesota.