Lawsuits Pile Up For CenturyLink After Years Of Bogus Fees, Fraudulent Billing

For decades now, broadband ISPs have abused the lack of meaningful competition in the telecom market by not only refusing to shore up historically awful customer service, but by raising rates hand over fist. This usually involves leaving the advertised price largely the same, but pummeling customers with all manner of misleading fees and surcharges that drive up the actual price paid post sale. And by and large regulators from both major political parties have been perfectly ok with this practice, despite it effectively being false advertising.

CenturyLink (combined by the merger of Qwest, CenturyTel and Embarq) has been exceptionally talented when it comes to misleading fees. A few years ago the company began charging its broadband customers an "Internet Cost Recovery Fee," which the company's website explains as such:

"This fee helps defray costs associated with building and maintaining CenturyLink's High-Speed Internet broadband network, as well as the costs of expanding network capacity to support the continued increase in customers' average broadband consumption."

Of course that's what the rest of your bill is supposed to be for, but by breaking out a cost of doing business below the line, CenturyLink can advertise a lower (completely false) rate. That not only helps the company mislead consumers, but makes it harder to compare existing plans -- should you actually have something vaguely resembling broadband competition in your town. In addition to misleading fees like this, CenturyLink has also taken advantage of a lack of competition by imposing arbitrary and unnecessary usage caps and overage fees as well.

But the company has been forced to retreat from both misleading fees and overage fees as it faces a steady stream of lawsuits for its pricing practices. The company was sued back in June after a whistleblower revealed the company was ripping off its customers in yet another way: signing them up for pricey services they never wanted, and never ordered. CenturyLink's problems have only ballooned since, with a growing list of states filing their own suits for what they say is a documented pattern of fraudulent billing:

"I want [CenturyLink] to knock it off,” Swanson said. β€œIt is not OK for a company to quote one price and then charge another for something as basic as cable television and internet service. We want an injunction so the company stops doing this to other people, and hopefully fixes the problem for these people as well.” The lawsuit, filed in Anoka County District Court, accuses Louisiana-based CenturyLink of committing consumer fraud and engaging in deceptive trade practices. It cites 37 specific cases in which people were overbilled by the company and denied the opportunity to reduce those charges β€” even when they had the original offer in writing."

Again, this has been going on for decades as a direct result of an overall lack of competition in the market. Usually said lawmakers defend their apathy to this problem by insisting the "free market" will somehow magically bring competition to bear on ISPs, culling any bad behavior. The problem, however, is these same lawmakers often simultaneously support ISP-written state level protectionist laws designed specifically to ensure this competition never actually arrives. It's a cycle of dysfunction that we won't be rushing to fix anytime soon, as the current Trump FCC is making fairly clear.

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