After Investigating Itself, CenturyLink Proclaims There's Just No Way It Committed Billing Fraud

from the trust-and-don't-verify dept

Lawsuits have begun to pile up for broadband provider CenturyLink, after a whistleblower revealed earlier this year that the ISP had been routinely over-billing its broadband customers for years. The whistleblower, who claims she was fired after bringing the problem to company management, said the company had a multi-year habit of consistently signing customers up for services they never ordered and didn't want. Of course that's on top of the routinely-misleading billing practices we see at most giant broadband providers, most notably the habit of making up completely bogus fees to jack up the advertised price post sale.

The whistleblower account was followed up by lawsuits from several state attorneys general, who say they discovered ample evidence that misleading pricing and overbilling was a consistent occurrance. An investigation by Minnesota AG Lori Swanson, for example, found numerous examples where customers were overbilled -- yet CenturyLink refused to fix the problem -- even when customers had the ISP's original promises in writing.

But worry not! CenturyLink last week issued a press release stating it had investigated itself, and found that company executives were completely and utterly innocent of any wrong doing. According to CenturyLink, the company constructed a "special committee" filled with CenturyLink board members, who collectively dug through 9.7 million documents, 4.3 terabytes of billing data consisting of over 32 billion billing records -- and interviewed 200 current and former Company employees. They found, impressively, precisely what CenturyLink CEO Glen Post hoped they would:

"The Company accepts the Special Committee's findings and conclusions. The investigation confirmed my long-held belief that there was no fraud or wrongdoing at the Company and that cramming was neither widespread nor condoned. However, we know there have been times when we haven't provided our customers the experience they deserve. We have identified a number of areas where we can improve the customer experience and have already made significant progress in addressing those areas."

That's in stark contrast to what whistleblowers and numerous state investigations have so far discovered. So letting actual, independent third-party investigations determine guilt or innocence seems kind of important. What did the investigation find? It found that if there was a problem, it was due to the fact that CenturyLink's billing and pricing was somehow confusing customers:

"Some of the Company's products, pricing and promotions were complex and caused confusion, and the resulting bills sometimes failed to meet customer expectations. Additionally, limitations in the Company's ordering and billing software made it difficult to provide customers with estimates of their bills and confirmation of service letters that reflected all discounts, prorated charges, taxes and fees."

Of course CenturyLink would have you believe that this confusing pricing just magically materialized by itself accidentally. In reality, large ISPs consistently employ confusing pricing in order to make direct price comparisons between ISP bundles all but impossible. It's standard practice. Centurylink also has a nasty habit of (apparently accidentally) imposing completely misleading fees to jack up the advertised price of service. Take CenturyLink's $4 per month "Internet Cost Recovery Fee," for example, which CenturyLink explains as such on its website:

"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 bullshit, and tackling the "costs of expanding network capacity" is what your regular bill is for. What the fee does accomplish is it lets CenturyLink advertise one price, then charge something else entirely. It's something broadband providers learned from the airline, banking, and other industries, and with limited competition, the "free market" mysteriously never auto-corrects the problem. And neither the FCC nor FTC have ever deemed this fairly blatant false advertising via bogus fees (which take many forms) worthy of serious inquiry.

And that's with the FCC's net neutrality rules in place, which at least required that ISPs clearly document all of this hidden nonsense to consumers at the point of sale. With those requirements about to die, and both federal and state oversight of ISPs about to be obliterated, you can expect an already-bad problem to only get worse. It's another example of how the death of net neutrality is going to have wide-reaching negative effects that go well beyond our traditional understanding of net neutrality violations. Of course if you like being nickel and dimed by your broadband ISP, the future's looking bright for you indeed.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 13 Dec 2017 @ 6:36am

    "Additionally, limitations in the Company's ordering and billing software made it difficult to provide customers with estimates of their bills and confirmation of service letters that reflected all discounts, prorated charges, taxes and fees."

    Its not a bug, its a feature.

    We checked & we did nothing wrong, so stop asking to check our work. If you can't trust us (who sneak in an extra $4 charge b/c we can) who can you trust??? Your evidence where we gave you a price in writing & we failed to honor it or our board who enjoys nice bonuses based on income....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2017 @ 6:42am

    "that there was no fraud or wrongdoing at the Company" Well, there you go then, open and shut - move along, nothing to see here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Oblate (profile), 13 Dec 2017 @ 6:58am

    Have to go check my bill...

    Are these corrupt practices geographically widespread? Or just where the ISPs have less/no competition?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 13 Dec 2017 @ 7:17am

    Aw, c'mon...

    CenturyLink meets the cable industry standards for honesty. Just ask Comcast, Verizon or the chairman of the FCC!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jerick, 13 Dec 2017 @ 8:21am

    Remember we just need to trust them

    Remember everything Ajit Pai has said. We just need to trust our broadband providers and everything will work out. And they'll be transparent about everything so we can be sure they couldn't possibly lie and are therefore clearly innocent of wrongdoing as they say. Because we can trust them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2017 @ 12:34pm

      Re: Remember we just need to trust them

      Pai definitely trusts them.

      His tens of millions of dollars in bribes are nice and secure in offshore accounts, along with promises of a nice cushy job once he's ripped the FCC to pieces in a way that will take years to fix.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 13 Dec 2017 @ 8:32am

    There was o collusion with Russia, believe me!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2017 @ 8:35am

    Losing but somehow still winning

    This is good news for my dividends!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Vel the Engimatic, 13 Dec 2017 @ 8:37am

    Kinda curious as to why...

    You are outright ignoring the bill put forth by Congressman Maloney.

    Even if it's just a symbolic gesture, it's one worth talking about and looking at, don't you think?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 13 Dec 2017 @ 11:01am

      Re: Kinda curious as to why...

      Bottom of the page, Contact, Submit a Story. While it may occasionally seem like TD is run by magicians who know and see all, some times things slip through without their notice unless people point it out to them, and/or they're focusing on something else at the time.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2017 @ 11:28am

      Re: Kinda curious as to why...

      Meh... Maloney is just grandstanding.

      A worthless gesture to be self proud. he needs to put his money where is mouth is and put some actual work into it.

      politics is full of this sort of shitnanigans.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2017 @ 9:29am

    Imagine if this worked in the criminal community?

    I can see it now:

    "Yes your honor, there is a ton of evidence that I am a serial burglar, and that I stole all this stuff from houses all over my home town, but I did an internal investigation and determined that there was some confusion among the homeowners of the houses I supposedly broke into. The confusion is that they owned the stuff I took, because in reality it all belonged to me to begin with."

    Because essentially that is what they are saying here. Their customers were confused about the bills they were sending out but its ok because the money their customers owed is what they owed and they were just confused at the fact that they owed money to the company for products they didn't know they had purchased.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2017 @ 9:57am

      Re: Imagine if this worked in the criminal community?

      Imagine if this worked in the criminal community?

      Well, it does. For CEOs, not burglars. Cf. banks in the last market crash.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2017 @ 10:55am

    commissioned salesmen

    At the root of the problem is the common practice of using commissioned salesmen, and even worst, putting them under pressure to meet never-ending sales targets. So of course they're going to lie to make a sale so they can get paid and/or not get fired.

    And just before these salesmen quit their jobs, enroll people who tell them flat-out "no" as well as people they've never contacted. Because by the time these involuntary customers get their bill and complain, these salesmen have cashed out their last paychecks and are long gone.

    It's not hard to figure out that a certain percentage of commissioned salesmen are always going to milk the system this way, yet companies act surprised every time it happens.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2017 @ 11:00am

    But Does This Matter?

    So a CenturyLink committee (founded and sponsored by CenturyLink) deemed that CenturyLink did nothing wrong. That's corporate bullshittery 101. They issued this in a press release to accomplish what exactly? People still hate them, lawsuits will still exist, and high ranking legal people still hold solid evidence.

    So they high-fived themselves. Fish swim, birds tweet, the Pope shits in the woods.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.