Internet provider Windstream agrees to $600,000 settlement with Georgia

Internet provider Windstream agrees to $600,000 settlement with Georgia

February 26th, 2014 by Alex Green in Business Around the Region

Windstream Communications Inc. logo

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Georgia Internet customers may have been lied to by a national Internet provider that promised high-speed service but failed to deliver it.

And that's unacceptable to the Governor's Office of Consumer Protection.

"That's our mission," said John Sours, administrator of the consumer protection office, "to hold people to their representations and to see to it that people receive the benefit of their bargain."

The Office of Consumer Protection announced Monday that it has agreed to a $600,000 settlement with Windstream Communications Inc., based in Little Rock, Ark., in a false advertising investigation.

The settlement was made public three days after Windstream announced a plan to lay off 400 employees nationwide to cut costs.

The company's Georgia woes stem from allegations that Windstream told some Georgians it could provide them Internet speeds that it could not, and failed to explain after providing service that some speed issues were not fixable because of outdated wiring.

The Office of Consumer Protection said Windstream representatives also "allegedly misrepresented" how long it would take to fix some problems and misled customers by airing "Lifetime Price Guarantee bundle" ads which "falsely implied" Internet speeds -- "up to 12 Mbps" -- the company couldn't actually deliver.

"This is essentially a truth-in-advertising case," said Sours. "What consumers thought they were getting from a major company was significantly different from what they allegedly received."

He said Windstream serves primarily rural areas. That would include about two-thirds of the state geographically.

Despite the settlement, Windstream officials are not admitting guilt to any of the accusations levied against the company.

"[The] agreement includes no finding or admission of violation by the company," wrote Scott Morris, Windstream corporate affairs senior adviser, in an email.

He said Windstream "has cooperated fully" with the state during its two-year investigation and is now "pleased to resolve" the investigation by settling and promising to stay inside advertising laws.

Windstream services 372,000 customers in Georgia. It serves 48 states around the country.

To Sours' knowledge, no other state has investigated Windstream for false advertising allegations.

Georgia's settlement with Windstream calls for the company to pay a $175,000 civil penalty, $175,000 in administrative fees and expenses and $250,000 to the Technical College System of Georgia where restitution money will be used to buy new computer equipment for Georgia's technical colleges.

Windstream officials told the Office of Consumer Protection that the company is currently doing $14 million worth of upgrades to its fiber network in Georgia. The upgrades are slated to be finished by mid-2014.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.