Local Internet service provider Windstream was fined $600,000 last week by the Governor’s office of Consumer protection for failure to live up to its commitment to deliver high-speed broadband service to large swaths of Northeast Georgia, including Madison County and surrounding areas.
“This is essentially a truth in advertising case,” said John Sours, administrator of the GOCP. “What consumers thought they were getting from a major company was significantly different from what they allegedly received.”
According to the GOCP, Windstream failed to deliver the Internet speeds promised in advertisements and for which consumers were paying. And when consumers called the company to complain, the company made promises it couldn’t keep about when the issue would be resolved — and in cases where customers’ equipment was supported by copper wires, failed to disclose that it could not solve the problems.
For example, advertisements for Windstream’s Lifetime Price Guarantee bundle implied that the offer included Internet speeds up to 12 Mbps. In addition, the company advertised a free six-month “Hulu Plus” package that allegedly did not disclose that customers who failed to cancel the service at or before the six-month period would be charged membership fees in perpetuity or until the membership was cancelled.
Windstream’s penalty includes a $175,000 civil penalty, $175,000 in administrative fees and expenses and $250,000 restitution that will be used to buy new computer equipment for the Technical College System of Georgia.
For its part, Windstream claims it is investing $14 million to upgrade parts of its Georgia network 90 percent of which it says were completed by the end of 2013, with the rest to be done by mid-year 2014. It indicates that the improvements will address download speed issues in the area where the improvements were made.
Additionally, Windstream says it is working on securing funding for upgrades for customers still served by equipment tied to copper wires.
The Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection opened an investigation last summer after WGCL — CBS Atlanta — sent a reporter to the Dawsonville Windstream office where a Windstream employee told him that the company could deliver speeds up to 24 Mbps and will guarantee speeds no slower than 6-12 Mbps. The reporter then interviewed a Dawsonville Windstream customer who reported that his download speeds sometimes barely reach 1 Mbps during the afternoons.
The TV story quoted a Windstream customer alleging that the company oversubscribes it service, adding more customers to an already overcrowded system, the result of which is slower service for everyone.
To file a complaint with the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection against any company doing business in Georgia, go to consumer.georgia.gov and find the “file a complaint” form under the Consumer Services tab.