EVERETT — Frontier Communications Northwest, the company that recently sold its broadband services to Kirkland-based WaveDivision, is to pay $900,000 to the state and affected customers for charging hidden fees and misrepresenting internet speeds.
Before the transfer of ownership, Frontier, whose main Western Washington office was in Everett, did not adequately disclose fees in advertising and misled subscribers about internet speeds it could provide, according to the Washington State Office of the Attorney General.
In a legal settlement to be filed in Thurston County Superior Court, the attorney general’s office said the $900,000 must be paid by Frontier Northwest or its parent, Frontier Communications of Norwalk, Connecticut, pending approval by a bankruptcy court. Frontier filed for bankruptcy as it was closing a deal to sell its telephone, television and internet holdings in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana to WaveDivision. That sale closed on May 1, and WaveDivision now does business as Ziply Fiber.
As in the case of many settlement agreements, Frontier does not admit wrongdoing.
Although the offending behavior occurred during Frontier’s ownership of the company, WaveDivision and Ziply Fiber must abide the settlement’s requirements for conspicuously disclosing fees and for being transparent about broadband speeds, the agreement states. WaveDivision also has agreed to invest $50 million in infrastructure improvements as a part of ownership transfer approval by the state Utilities and Transportation Commission.
Under Frontier, more than 600 complaints were filed with the attorney general’s office. An investigation found that Frontier failed to adequately disclose fees while marketing cable, internet and phone services since 2016. Among other things, the company charged up to $3.99, about $50 per year, for an “internet infrastructure surcharge” without adequately disclosing the surcharge in advertising.
“Broadband access is integral to our daily lives,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a news release. “The current pandemic has only amplified its importance. Knowing the true cost and speed of our internet connection is essential to make an informed decision about a service that connects us to our work and to each other. Companies must be able to deliver what they promise, at the price they advertise.”
Most of the $900,000 will go toward restitution through a claims process for affected Frontier customers, the attorney general said.
“The Attorney General’s Office will announce details of the claims process when they are finalized,” according to the news release. “Washingtonians who have filed complaints with the Attorney General’s Office about Frontier Northwest will be directly notified of the claims process.”