AG Ellison settles with Frontier, concluding investigations into Minnesota telecoms providers
Settlement to provide meaningful benefits to Frontier’s customers, many of whom live in Greater Minnesota
July 14, 2020
July 13, 2020 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced today that his office has entered into a settlement with Frontier Communications. The settlement with Frontier concludes the three major investigations and lawsuits that the Attorney General’s office launched into Minnesota’s major telecoms providers for deceptive, misleading, and fraudulent practices. Attorney General Ellison’s office settled lawsuits against CenturyLink and Comcast/Xfinity earlier this year.
The Assurance of Discontinuance with Frontier Communications of America, Inc., Frontier Communications of Minnesota, Inc., and Citizens Telecommunications Company of Minnesota, LLC (collectively, “Frontier”) resolves the Attorney General’s investigation into possible deceptive and misleading practices related to Frontier’s billing and sale of internet services. As part of the settlement, Frontier agrees to fully disclose its prices for internet service to new customers before they take service, allow many current customers to cancel their current service without penalty, make significant investments to upgrade its network to provide better service, and pay restitution for past harm.
Frontier provides telephone and internet service to approximately 90,000 customers in Minnesota, many of whom live outside the Minneapolis–Saint Paul metro area and have limited options for high-speed internet service. Minnesotans who are customers of Frontier may submit a claim for restitution through a dedicated claim form on the Attorney General’s website, or by calling (651) 296-3353 (Metro) or (800) 657-3787 (Greater Minnesota).
“It’s hard enough to afford your life these days. For so many folks, especially in Greater Minnesota, affording your life means being able to rely on the promises your telecoms provider makes for the internet service you depend on. For too many Minnesotans, Frontier broke its promises,” Attorney General Ellison said. “With this settlement with Frontier, and following the resolution of our lawsuits against CenturyLink and Comcast/Xfinity, now most Minnesotans can trust that they’ll be getting what they paid for from their telecoms providers, and that they’re paying what they were promised and no more.”
The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office began its investigation in 2018 after receiving numerous complaints from Frontier’s customers. Based on its investigation, the Attorney General’s Office alleged that Frontier used a variety of deceptive and misleading practices to overcharge its customers, such as: billing customers more than they were quoted by Frontier’s agents; failing to disclose fees and surcharges in its sales presentations and advertising materials; and billing customers for services that were not delivered. Attorney General Ellison’s Office also alleged that Frontier sold Minnesotans expensive internet services with so-called “maximum speed” ratings that were not attainable, and that Frontier improperly advertised its service as “reliable,” when in fact it did not provide enough bandwidth for customers to consistently receive their expected service.
Attorney General Ellison’s settlement resolves these allegations by requiring Frontier to take the following steps:
1. Clearly disclose the important terms of its internet service to potential customers at the time it sells them internet service. This disclosure must include the exact “base price” for Frontier’s service; estimated amounts of any taxes, fees, surcharges, and one-time fees; and any recurring charges. Frontier must also disclose the time period that the customer will be charged this amount, and any applicable cancellation charge.
2. Provide all new customers with a written Order Confirmation that identifies the customer’s total expected charges, and provide customers with the ability to cancel service without charge before installation.
3. Reform its sales and advertising practices to ensure customers are informed of the speed capability of internet service at their specific locations.
4. Notify existing customers who are not receiving internet service at the maximum speed they are paying for, and allow those customers to change to a lower-priced plan or discontinue service at no cost.
5. Ensure that every customer’s maximum internet speed is at least 90 percent of the maximum speed advertised in the customer’s service plans.
6. Invest at least $10 million over four years to improve its broadband network. This amount is in addition to any money Frontier may receive from outside government grants, and its current commitments for improvements.
7. Pay restitution of $750,000 that the Attorney General’s Office can distribute to Frontier’s customers for past harm.
Before entering into this settlement, Frontier had filed for bankruptcy in New York.
In January of 2019, the Minnesota Department of Commerce filed a separate report with the Public Utilities Commission, which found that the telecommunications provider failed to provide adequate, reliable phone and internet service to Minnesota customers. The Department of Commerce found that “[m]any of the issues reported by consumers show direct violations of Minnesota law and [Minnesota Public Utilities] Commission rules, and indicate broad, systemic problems with Frontier’s service quality, recordkeeping and business operations.” The Attorney General's Office began its investigation of Frontier before the Department's report and the Attorney General's settlement does not impact the Department's or the PUC's investigation.