The Federal Trade Commission has moved to stop internet service provider Frontier Communications from lying to consumers and charging them for high-speed internet speeds it fails to deliver. Under a proposed order with the FTC and two California law enforcement agencies, Frontier will be prohibited from tricking consumers about its slow internet service and required to support its speed claims. Frontier must also provide current customers with free and easy cancellations when it fails to deliver the promised speeds.
“Frontier lied about its speeds and ripped off customers by charging high-speed prices for slow service,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Today’s proposed order requires Frontier to back up its high-speed claims. It also arms customers lured in by Frontier’s lies with free, easy options for dropping their slow service.”
“My office will not stand by while businesses take advantage of consumers by failing to provide them with the services they have purchased,” said Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón. “We will continue to work together with our law enforcement partners to make sure that companies fulfill their promises to consumers and that they refrain from making false statements in their advertisements.”
Connecticut-based Frontier advertises and sells digital subscriber line (DSL) internet service in several plans, or tiers, based on download speed. In a complaint first filed in May 2021, the FTC alleged that Frontier advertised that it could provide various speeds of DSL internet service based on the type of plan consumers purchased. Many of the subscribers to Frontier’s DSL service are in rural areas where they may only have one choice, or very limited choices, for internet service.
The FTC alleged, however, that Frontier failed to provide many consumers with the maximum speeds they were promised and the speeds they actually received often fell far short of what was touted in the plans they purchased. Some customers complained that it was difficult to engage in typical online activities that should have been possible under the plan they purchased.
In addition to prohibiting the conduct outlined in the complaint, other provisions of the proposed order:
- require Frontier to substantiate its internet speed claims at a customer-by-customer level for new and complaining customers and notify customers when it is unable to do so;
- require Frontier to ensure it can provide the internet service speeds it advertises before signing up, upgrading, or billing new customers;
- prohibit Frontier from signing up new customers for its DSL internet service in areas where the high number of users sharing the same networking equipment causes congestion resulting in slower internet service; and
- require the company to notify existing customers who are receiving DSL internet service at speeds lower than was advertised and allow those customers to change or cancel their service at no charge.
Frontier also will be required to pay $8.5 million in civil penalties and costs to the Los Angeles County and Riverside County District Attorneys’ offices on behalf of California consumers as well as $250,000 that will be distributed to Frontier’s California customers harmed by the company’s practices. In addition, the company must discount the bills of California customers who have not been notified that they are receiving DSL service that is much slower than the highest advertised speed. Frontier is required to deploy fiber-optic internet service, which is generally much faster than DSL, to 60,000 residential locations in California over four years—at an estimated cost of $50 million to $60 million.
The Commission vote approving the stipulated final order was 4-0. Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips issued a concurring statement. The FTC filed the proposed order in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
NOTE: Stipulated final orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.