Qwest Communications has agreed to pay Washington state $1.3 million to settle 7,500 complaints filed by Washington customers against the telecommunications company in the past two years, Attorney General Christine Gregoire announced Monday.
Gregoire told a news conference Qwest also will make restitution totaling about $250,000 to customers who said they paid for unwanted or misrepresented services.
The Denver-based regional phone company acknowledges no wrongdoing. But it agreed not to engage in “cramming,” the process of adding unauthorized charges on bills.
Qwest will establish new customer service standards under the agreement with the attorney general’s office.
“It’s the No. 1 company that we’ve received complaints about the last two years,” Gregoire said. “When you have 7,500 complaints in a two-year period, that is dramatic.”
She said 2,000 complaints were received by her office and 5,500 by the state Utilities and Transportation Commission.
Qwest serves 2 million customers in Washington state. It serves 13 other states.
“We are pleased to resolve this matter so that we can continue to focus our efforts on delivering good customer service to our customers,” said Qwest’s president for Washington, Kirk Nelson in Seattle. He called the $1.3 million “a fair number.”
In February, Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers announced that Qwest had agreed to pay $575,000 to settle complaints that it had engaged in cramming in Oregon.
In Washington, Qwest will issue refunds or credits to eligible consumers who filed complaints with the attorney general’s office since Nov. 1, 2000, or who file 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.
“Consumers believe they have been misled, mishandled and misadvised by Qwest,” Gregoire said.
Of the $1.3 million payment to the state, $500,000 will go to consumer education, $300,000 to cover the cost of the state’s investigation and $500,000 to the state’s general fund, Gregoire said.
Gregoire said the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division looked into an alleged pattern of cramming phone bills with line feature packages such as Custom Choice and Value Choice. They include features such as call waiting, call forwarding, custom ringing and caller ID.
The state also investigated whether Qwest misrepresented wireless service and high-speed DSL Internet access.
“We found cases where Qwest charged consumers, sometimes up to $20 a month, for extra packages they did not order or for feature packages misrepresented as all or none,” Gregoire said.