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Post date: September 13 1999

Spitzer Seeks Fair Play Among Long Distance Carriers

In an effort to combat misleading promotions by the nation's long distance telephone companies, Attorney General Spitzer today announced a settlement with a top telecommunications firm over a program that provided "free" airline tickets to consumers who switched providers.

Denver-based Qwest Communications Corporation has agreed to modify its "Fly Free America" promotion, to provide restitution to dissatisfied consumers and to pay $55,000 in penalties to the State of New York.

"Consumers today are faced with a dizzying array of telecommunications services and prices," Spitzer said. "My office is closely scrutinizing advertising offers and will take action against those telecommunications providers who do not give necessary disclosures so that consumers can make informed decisions."

"In this case, Qwest misled consumers into switching their long distance carrier with promises of free airline tickets, which, in fact, had undisclosed strings attached. Once my office identified the problem, we acted quickly to require that Qwest modify its advertising practices," he said.

Under the "Fly Free America" promotion, Qwest offered "free" airline tickets to consumers who switched to its long distance service for 60 days or more. Qwest's telemarketers, e-mail solicitations, and website, however, failed to disclose important conditions. Specifically, Quest failed to:

  • Disclose that when consumers accepted the free airline tickets, they were required to pay for hotel stays at high rates for a minimum number of days;
  • Disclose that consumers were required to pay a monthly fee for its long distance service; and
  • Disclose the company's in-state long distance calling rate per minute, which is more than its state-to-state per minute rate.

According to the settlement, Qwest must provide partial refunds to consumers who signed up for its service in response to the promotion and who terminated the service within 60 days or who have signed up for Qwest in response to the "Fly Free America" promotion within the last 60 days. Additionally, consumers who believe that Qwest failed to disclose its monthly service fee and in-state rates are also qualified for refunds.

Complaints must be filed with the Attorney General's Office by January 7 to be eligible for compensation. Individuals are encouraged to contact the Attorney General's consumer help line at (800) 771-7755 for further details or to obtain a complaint form.

The case was handled for the Attorney General's office by Assistant Attorney General Jill Ellen Sandford of the Telecommunications and Energy Bureau, under the supervision of Mary Ellen Burns, Bureau Chief.