Relief Coming For Rochester Area Internet Customers

Attorney General Spitzer today announced that his office has reached an agreement with America Online, Inc. (AOL) and Frontier Telephone Company of Rochester, Inc. (Frontier) to provide $200,000 in refunds and credits to over 400 Rochester-area America On Line (AOL) customers for long distance charges they incurred last winter while using the Internet.

"This agreement will provide relief to the hundreds of consumers who received unexpected phone bills -- some amounting to over a thousand dollars -- for internet dial-up service they used while believing they were connected to a local access number," said Spitzer.

AOL and Frontier cooperated in the investigation which concluded without a finding of fault. Each has voluntarily contributed $100,000 in refunds and credits that will be distributed to customers suffering unexpected long distance charges related to their online use.

During the fall of 2001, Western New York's long-time regional area code, 716, was subdivided, creating a second area code, 585, for residents of the greater Rochester area. Both area codes were in effect for a nine month period beginning in November 2001. At the same time, AOL introduced a new upgraded software package, 7.0, for its customers.

Also beginning that month, hundreds of Rochester area consumers were surprised to discover unexpected long-distance charges for Internet dial-up access calls. The Attorney General's Rochester regional office and his Telecommunications and Energy Bureau commenced an investigation into the matter following the receipt of a series of complaints related to these charges.

Under the terms of the agreement, long distance telephone phone charges will be adjusted by either credit or reimbursement for calls placed from the 585 area code to AOL Internet access numbers located in the 716 area code. Consumers are eligible to participate in the compensation program for charges incurred between October 1, 2001 and May 31, 2002. Any credits received from AOL or the consumer's long distance telephone company will reduce the amount considered for individual compensation.

In addition to monetary reimbursement or credits, AOL, Frontier and the Attorney General have agreed to jointly develop a consumer education program aimed at reducing the chances that customers will incur long-distance charges while accessing the Internet.

The Attorney General commended AOL and Frontier for being willing to step forward to address the problem by providing monetary relief to consumers as well as committing to future educational efforts to prevent a recurrence of this incident.

Consumers who have not previously complained to the Attorney General, AOL or Frontier can submit requests for compensation by submitting a copy of their long distance phone bills, indicating which calls were made to area code 716 AOL access numbers from area code 585 phones, and by completing a claim form.

It is not necessary to refile if you have previously filed a complaint regarding the inadvertent charges and provided the phone bills to the Attorney General's office. In the event that the value of total claims for refunds exceeds $200,000, then claims will be pro-rated. After the 21-day claim period closes, current Frontier long distance customers will receive bill credits for their compensation amounts, while others will be mailed checks by the Attorney General's Office.

Assistant Attorneys General Marian Payson and Benjamin Bruce, in the Rochester Regional Office, and Assistant Attorney General Keith Gordon in the Attorney General's Telecommunications and Energy Bureau, worked on the investigation and resulting settlement.