Minnesota Sues CenturyLink Over Billing Complaints -- Update

By Drew FitzGerald Features Dow Jones Newswires

Minnesota's attorney general accused CenturyLink Inc. of systematically overbilling customers, adding to the telecommunications provider's legal troubles as it pursues a massive corporate merger.

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Representatives of Monroe, La.-based CenturyLink often misquoted prices for television or internet service before customers received much higher bills, according to a complaint filed Wednesday by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson.

The state said its investigation started in May 2016 after the attorney general fielded hundreds of customer complaints about price quotes that allegedly were never honored. "This one rose to the top of the pile for me because of the seriousness of the complaints," Ms. Swanson said in an interview.

"We are disappointed that the Attorney General has chosen a press conference to communicate her concerns instead of contacting CenturyLink directly," CenturyLink spokesman Mark Molzen said. "We take these allegations seriously and will review and respond in due course."

CenturyLink has grown from a small phone provider by scooping up the former Qwest and Sprint Corp.'s landlines and now is seeking regulatory approval for its $25 billion merger with Level 3 Communications Inc. Minnesota's own public utilities commission approved the Level 3 deal, as have at least 20 other state authorities.

Minnesota's lawsuit said the company used a convoluted billing system that its own sales staff often failed to understand. As a result, the suit said, quotes for service around $40 a month turned into monthly bills topping $100 in some cases.

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"CenturyLink's pricing scheme starts with more than 1,500 different scenarios that can affect the base rates that CenturyLink will charge," according to the 25-page lawsuit, which was filed in Anoka County District Court.

Support staff also told customers that the company's "internet cost recovery fee," as high as $3.99 a month, was tied to various government taxes when it was actually another way of framing the company's regular service charges, the lawsuit alleges.

Shares of CenturyLink fell 3.2% to $22.50 in Wednesday's trading session.

Write to Drew FitzGerald at andrew.fitzgerald@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 12, 2017 19:16 ET (23:16 GMT)