An Anoka County judge has ordered CenturyLink to be more transparent about its prices and fees — including sticking to the prices it initially quotes to customers buying phone, internet and cable packages.
The court order on Friday from Anoka County Chief Judge Chief Judge Douglas Meslow was prompted by a lawsuit filed in July by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson.
The judge’s order, written with input from both Swanson and CenturyLink attorneys, does not amount to a judgment on whether or not CenturyLink did engage in unlawful business practices.
The lawsuit by the DFL attorney general compiled 37 stories from some of the “hundreds” of people Swanson said contacted her office with stories of CenturyLink’s attempts to bill them for charges they hadn’t agreed to, or refusal to honor deals offered by the company’s salespeople.
Swanson’s case, which also seeks civil penalties for CenturyLink and restitution for customers who were misled by the company, is still moving forward in court.
But the attorney general said on Monday that the judge’s order is aimed at preventing any additional billing-related problems or confusion in the meantime.
CenturyLink “is going to have to be very specific now: ‘This is your monthly base fee, these are your recurring fees you’ll see every month, and this is how long it applies,’ ” Swanson said. “This should hopefully be something meaningful for consumers so they can get the core information they need to know.”
CenturyLink spokesman Mark Molzen said in a statement that the Louisiana-based company was already working on some of the requirements included in the order and “will continue to work through the issues raised by the attorney general’s complaint.”
“Our goal is to ensure that our customers understand the terms of service at the point of sale,” he said. “Should our customers have questions or concerns, we offer a variety of methods for them to contact us, including online chat, e-mail or by calling the toll-free number on their bill.”
The court order prohibits CenturyLink from making false statements or leaving out information about prices and fees in its conversations with customers looking to buy CenturyLink services or DIRECTV cable services through CenturyLink.
It requires the company to be upfront about the specifics of all charges, including how long special deals will be in effect and what other kinds of fees a customer could expect.
By Nov. 22, the company must “implement sales scripts for use by its representatives” that disclose the full scope of fees, charges terms and conditions for each package deal.
Swanson said that it’s likely the case will take some time to work its way through the court system.
If a judge eventually orders CenturyLink to pay back people who said they were unfairly billed by the company, it’s unclear how many people might share in that restitution.
The attorney general said her office received a “tsunami” of additional complaints after the July announcement about the lawsuit.
She said she still wants to hear from others with similar stories, or people with concerns about other cable, phone and internet providers, though she’s not actively pursuing another case.
“We want to hear from people, regardless of what company they do business with,” she said.