ST. PAUL, Minn.-Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the telecommunications provider CenturyLink over misquoting prices of service.
The lawsuit alleges that CenturyLink used “complex and deceptive pricing practices.” Due to hidden rules within the billing statements produced by CenturyLink, there was a consistent disconnect between the quoted prices given to consumers, and the actual prices paid. CenturyLink described the hidden rules within it pricing code as ‘trade secrets.’
Adding to the complexity of CenturyLink’s pricing practices was the fact that the company has thousands of base-rate scenarios, with a difficult to understand criteria for determining a particular base-rate.
The lawsuit goes on to state some 37 examples of the kinds of complaints people had with CenturyLink pricing. Some of the differences were off by over $100 per month. Some consumers were deceived, as they had directly asked for the total cost or additional fees associated with the quoted price. A frequent additional cost was an “Internet Cost Recovery Fee,” which according to CenturyLink “helps cover the costs associated with building and maintaining the internet network.” The lawsuit alleges that CenturyLink admitted to misrepresenting the “Internet Cost Recovery Fee,” as a government fee (which of it is not). Another fact uncovered in the state’s investigation was that CenturyLink had special knowledge that the Minnesota consumer did not have during the time of the purchase when it came to special conditions. This was just another way in which CenturyLink misrepresented itself, alleges the state.
As such CenturyLink has been brought up on two counts by Swanson, one of consumer fraud and one of deceptive trade practices. The count of consumer fraud states that “due to the deceptive and fraudulent conduct described in this complaint, Minnesota consumers have made payments to CenturyLink for goods and services that they otherwise would not have purchased or in an amount that they should not have been required to pay, thereby causing harm to those consumers.” Furthermore, the charge alleges that “CenturyLink had a duty to disclose material facts to potential customers.”
The second count claims CenturyLink “made false and misleading, statements about the reasons for, existence of, and amounts of price reductions it promised to Minnesota consumers but subsequently failed to deliver to those consumers.”
For relief the state hopes to force CenturyLink to award civil penalties for each separate instance where the court deems there has been a violation of the two counts on the part of CenturyLink.
In an email to Bloomberg, CenturyLink responded to the lawsuit, “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.”