Qwest Communications Settles Claims of `Slamming' and Deceptive Advertising And Billing; Agrees to Pay $350,000

Apr 27, 2001, 01:00 ET from Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General

    HARRISBURG, Pa., April 27 /PRNewswire/ -- Pennsylvania Attorney General
 Mike Fisher today announced that his Bureau of Consumer Protection has taken
 action against Denver-based Qwest Communications for allegedly using deceptive
 advertising to entice consumers to change their long distance telephone
 service.  The company is also accused of deceptive billing practices and
 switching consumers' long distance service without proper authorization, a
 practice known as "slamming."
     "We allege that thousands of Pennsylvania consumers either changed their
 long distance company to Qwest based on a deceptive "free" airline ticket
 offer, or were switched to Qwest without their expressed permission," Fisher
 said.  "These alleged business practices violate the Commonwealth's Consumer
 Protection Law."
     Fisher said Qwest has entered into an "Assurance of Voluntary Compliance"
 agreement with his office resolving alleged violations of Pennsylvania's
 Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.  The agreement requires
 that Qwest refund eligible consumers and pay $350,000 for investigation costs
 and other public protection purposes.
     According to investigators, Qwest in 1998 and 1999 hired independent
 marketing agents to solicit consumers across Pennsylvania for the purpose of
 obtaining new Qwest customers.  During the solicitation, consumers were told
 under Qwest's "Fly Free America" promotion they would receive two "free"
 airline tickets as incentive to switch their long distance carrier to Qwest.
 Many consumers claimed that they never received the promised ticket
 information packet or the "free" airline tickets.
     Those consumers who did receive the tickets discovered that there were
 costs associated with the "free" offer.  Many said they found out about the
 costs weeks after they were switched to Qwest and had already begun paying for
 the company's long distance services.
     According to consumers, "free" airline ticket travelers were required to
 pay between $154 and $427 per day for accommodations at participating hotels
 and condominiums plus service charges, taxes and other fees that were not
 originally disclosed.  Travelers were also required to stay at their
 destination from three to 14 days.  In addition, some consumers said they were
 required to purchase a connecting commuter airline ticket to reach their
 particular destination.
     Fisher said other alleged violations included billing consumers as Qwest
 customers before confirming if the consumer subscribed to Qwest's long
 distance services.  As a result, consumers claimed that they were billed
 monthly fees and other charges when Qwest was not their primary long distance
 company.  In addition, Qwest allegedly claimed that a surcharge billed to
 consumers was mandated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) when in
 fact it was a fee that neither the FCC or any other government agency required
 Qwest to collect from its customers.
     Under the terms of the settlement, Qwest admits no wrongdoing and agrees
 to:
 
     -- Provide refunds to consumers who were "slammed," including
         reimbursement of any switching fees and/or any higher rates they may
         have paid for Qwest's long distance services.
     -- Provide refunds of any switching fees paid by consumers who changed to
         Qwest due to their "Fly Free America" promotion.
     -- Obtain consumers' expressed authorization before switching their long
         distance service to Qwest.
     -- Conduct future advertising, promotions, solicitations or incentive
         offers in compliance with Pennsylvania's Consumer Protection Law.
     -- Accurately represent surcharges or other fees.
     -- Only bill those consumers who are enrolled as Qwest customers.
     -- Notify the Attorney General's Office during the next two years of any
         complaints received by consumers.
     -- Pay $350,000 for the Commonwealth's investigation costs and other
         public protection purposes.
 
     In July 2000, Qwest paid $1.5 million to the FCC to resolve similar
 alleged "slamming" practices.  The assurance was filed in Commonwealth Court
 by Senior Deputy Attorney General E. Barry Creany of Fisher's Bureau of
 Consumer Protection Office in Ebensburg.
 
                      MAKE YOUR OPINION COUNT - Click Here
                http://tbutton.prnewswire.com/prn/11690X45916754
 
     NOTE:  Actualities are available by calling the Attorney General's Radio
 News Line at 1-877-603-5201.
 
     CONTACT:  Barbara Petito, Deputy Press Secretary of the Pennsylvania
 Office of Attorney General, 717-787-5211.
 
 

SOURCE Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General
    HARRISBURG, Pa., April 27 /PRNewswire/ -- Pennsylvania Attorney General
 Mike Fisher today announced that his Bureau of Consumer Protection has taken
 action against Denver-based Qwest Communications for allegedly using deceptive
 advertising to entice consumers to change their long distance telephone
 service.  The company is also accused of deceptive billing practices and
 switching consumers' long distance service without proper authorization, a
 practice known as "slamming."
     "We allege that thousands of Pennsylvania consumers either changed their
 long distance company to Qwest based on a deceptive "free" airline ticket
 offer, or were switched to Qwest without their expressed permission," Fisher
 said.  "These alleged business practices violate the Commonwealth's Consumer
 Protection Law."
     Fisher said Qwest has entered into an "Assurance of Voluntary Compliance"
 agreement with his office resolving alleged violations of Pennsylvania's
 Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.  The agreement requires
 that Qwest refund eligible consumers and pay $350,000 for investigation costs
 and other public protection purposes.
     According to investigators, Qwest in 1998 and 1999 hired independent
 marketing agents to solicit consumers across Pennsylvania for the purpose of
 obtaining new Qwest customers.  During the solicitation, consumers were told
 under Qwest's "Fly Free America" promotion they would receive two "free"
 airline tickets as incentive to switch their long distance carrier to Qwest.
 Many consumers claimed that they never received the promised ticket
 information packet or the "free" airline tickets.
     Those consumers who did receive the tickets discovered that there were
 costs associated with the "free" offer.  Many said they found out about the
 costs weeks after they were switched to Qwest and had already begun paying for
 the company's long distance services.
     According to consumers, "free" airline ticket travelers were required to
 pay between $154 and $427 per day for accommodations at participating hotels
 and condominiums plus service charges, taxes and other fees that were not
 originally disclosed.  Travelers were also required to stay at their
 destination from three to 14 days.  In addition, some consumers said they were
 required to purchase a connecting commuter airline ticket to reach their
 particular destination.
     Fisher said other alleged violations included billing consumers as Qwest
 customers before confirming if the consumer subscribed to Qwest's long
 distance services.  As a result, consumers claimed that they were billed
 monthly fees and other charges when Qwest was not their primary long distance
 company.  In addition, Qwest allegedly claimed that a surcharge billed to
 consumers was mandated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) when in
 fact it was a fee that neither the FCC or any other government agency required
 Qwest to collect from its customers.
     Under the terms of the settlement, Qwest admits no wrongdoing and agrees
 to:
 
     -- Provide refunds to consumers who were "slammed," including
         reimbursement of any switching fees and/or any higher rates they may
         have paid for Qwest's long distance services.
     -- Provide refunds of any switching fees paid by consumers who changed to
         Qwest due to their "Fly Free America" promotion.
     -- Obtain consumers' expressed authorization before switching their long
         distance service to Qwest.
     -- Conduct future advertising, promotions, solicitations or incentive
         offers in compliance with Pennsylvania's Consumer Protection Law.
     -- Accurately represent surcharges or other fees.
     -- Only bill those consumers who are enrolled as Qwest customers.
     -- Notify the Attorney General's Office during the next two years of any
         complaints received by consumers.
     -- Pay $350,000 for the Commonwealth's investigation costs and other
         public protection purposes.
 
     In July 2000, Qwest paid $1.5 million to the FCC to resolve similar
 alleged "slamming" practices.  The assurance was filed in Commonwealth Court
 by Senior Deputy Attorney General E. Barry Creany of Fisher's Bureau of
 Consumer Protection Office in Ebensburg.
 
                      MAKE YOUR OPINION COUNT - Click Here
                http://tbutton.prnewswire.com/prn/11690X45916754
 
     NOTE:  Actualities are available by calling the Attorney General's Radio
 News Line at 1-877-603-5201.
 
     CONTACT:  Barbara Petito, Deputy Press Secretary of the Pennsylvania
 Office of Attorney General, 717-787-5211.
 
 SOURCE  Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General