CenturyLink to pay $8.9 million in fraudulent billing case

Customers in 14 states have accused CenturyLink of overbilling. (CenturyLink)

CenturyLink has agreed to pay almost $9 million to settle charges that it overbilled customers in Minnesota for internet and television service, according to the Associated Press. The company said it disagrees with the charges brought against it by Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison, but wants to settle in order to avoid the costs of litigation.

Roughly 12,000 Minnesota residents will get about $70 each from CenturyLink. If they are still customers of the company they will get a bill credit, and if not they will receive a check. These 12,000 people were allegedly promised discounts they did not receive, but according to Ellison's office there are many other people who are due refunds. The bulk of the settlement, $8 million, will go directly to the attorney general's office, which will use the money to distribute refunds to other customers.

According to the AG's office, many of these customers were paying bogus fees each month for internet service. The charges were allegedly disguised in order to make them look like government fees, but they were actually going to CenturyLink. The company is accused of ratcheting these fake fees up gradually over time, and has now agreed to stop charging them. 

For the next three years, CenturyLink will submit audit reports to the Minnesota AG's office on a regular basis. The company has promised to honor all discounts promised, and to disclose the true price of its internet service at the time of sale.

Minnesota is just one of several states in which customers have accused CenturyLink of overbilling. In a separate action, customers from Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Washington State, and Wisconsin joined those from Minnesota in suing CenturyLink in U.S. district court in Minnesota. That case was settled in October 2019 for $18.5 million, $15.5 million of which can go to customers. 

One of the ways in which CenturyLink was able to increase the potential cost and complication of a court trial was by claiming that the plaintiffs should be suing its various operating companies rather than CenturyLink itself. These include companies like Qwest, CenturyTel and others that CenturyLink has acquired over the years.

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Minnesota first took action against CenturyLink more than two years ago. Customer complaints have continued to come into the AG's office since then, and now total more than 4,000. Obviously many more people are getting refunds, some of whom may not even be aware of the dispute or the alleged overbilling. The attorney general's office has posted a form on its website for customers in Minnesota who believe they were overcharged by CenturyLink to submit their information so that they can be contacted and considered for possible refunds. The form states that "Minnesota consumers who received internet or television service from CenturyLink between July 12, 2011 and the present are eligible for refunds if they were charged more for service than they agreed to pay."

CenturyLink is one of the largest internet service providers in the United States, and is also a major provider of landline phone service.