SEATTLE - Qwest Communications will pay the state $1.3 million, make restitution to customers who claim they paid for unwanted or misrepresented services and will establish new customer service standards under an agreement announced today by Attorney General Christine Gregoire.
Gregoire unveiled the settlement at press conferences in Seattle, Spokane and Vancouver.
The settlement follows a lengthy investigation of Qwest sales and service practices. Gregoire said her Consumer Protection Division has received more complaints against Qwest in the last two years than any other company. The Attorney General's Office and the Utilities and Transportation Commission have received more than 7,000 complaints against the company, which serves two million customers in Washington.
Gregoire said the settlement provides restitution for consumers and is designed to help improve customer service. Gregoire praised Qwest for entering into the agreement and attempting to reverse the trend of consumer complaints.
Investigators found a steady pattern of poor customer service that left consumers frustrated and angry. Gregoire said customers were subjected to lengthy waits for service, and when they finally reached a customer service representative, they were subjected to sales pitches for new products instead of having their problems resolved.
"Consumers believe they have been misled, mishandled and misadvised by Qwest," Gregoire said. "This settlement requires Qwest to provide the kind of service consumers need, want and deserve, and it stops the hard-sell for products they don't want, don't need or can't afford," Gregoire said.
In the settlement, the company and its subsidiary, Qwest Wireless LLC, didn't admit guilt but agreed to not engage in "cramming"-- adding unauthorized charges on consumers' bills - concealing various other charges and misrepresenting the cost, coverage and availability of wireless service and high-speed digital-subscriber-line (DSL) Internet-access service.
Throughout its investigation, the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division looked into an alleged pattern of "cramming" telephone bills with line feature packages such as Custom Choice and Value Choice, which include features such as call waiting, call forwarding, custom ringing and caller ID.
Attorneys also investigated whether Qwest employees made misleading claims or misrepresentations related to wireless and DSL services, including cost, availability and coverage areas.
Under the agreement, Qwest will issue refunds or credits to eligible consumers who were harmed and who filed complaints with the Attorney General's Office since Nov. 1, 2000 and who file complaints within the next 120 days.
There is no cap on the amount of restitution the company will pay, but state officials estimate it could be as much as $250,000.
Qwest will also pay the state $1.3 million, $500,000 of which will go to consumer education, $300,000 to cover the cost of the state's investigation, and the remainder into the state General Fund.
Qwest will improve customer service by:
- fully investigating complaints within 35 days
- using Washington state-based employees to respond to consumer complaints;
- allowing consumers dissatisfied with a proposed resolution to speak to a manager with decision making authority within two days;
- providing consumers with written confirmation of new or changed service, a description of how new features work and a toll-free number for consumers to ask questions; and
- appointing a third party to monitor Qwest's performance and to identify illegal practices or poor customer service.
Qwest Settlement Facts
How to Avoid Telephone Service Fraud
Audio clip of Attorney General Christine O. Gregoire