FTC and states sue Frontier Communications for misrepresenting internet speeds

Suit alleges Frontier offered higher speeds than it could offer in rural areas

Broadband speed dial

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has joined six states in suing internet service provider (ISP) Frontier Communications for misrepresenting its internet speeds.

The attorneys general of Arizona, California, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin filed a complaint alleging that the ISP sold tiered copper DSL internet plans with real-life speeds that often fell short of what they promised.

Frontier, which serves 1.3 million consumers across 25 states, advertised its DSL services with maximum speeds in markets where it knew it couldn't deliver that performance, argued the complaint. Many of these customers lived in rural areas and were limited to DSL services rather than the company's fiber option.

The ISP's advertisements contained small print warning that maximum speeds would not be available in all areas. However, when people called to sign up for the service, its salespeople signed them up for the advertised tier, despite having tools telling them the maximum speed was not available at the customer's address.

In many cases, Frontier provided no written documentation of the DSL service it provided customers, the lawsuit said. The only record was as a line item in their bill that didn't mention the advertised internet speed.

The lawsuit also alleged Frontier provisioned slower-than-advertised speeds at the DSL access multiplexer (DSLAM) that handles DSL connections without telling customers.

When the company commissioned a management consultant to analyse its network data, it found the Frontier potentially oversold almost 30% of subscribers (around 440,000 customers) on their DSL service. Thousands of customers complained about slow speeds.

The lawsuit contains multiple counts under the FTC Act and state law, claiming misrepresentation and unfair billing practices. Wisconsin also sued the company for misrepresenting its landline services in the same complaint, alleging frequent quality issues and thousands of landline outages lasting for over a day.

The FTC, which voted unanimously to file the complaint, requested an injunction against Frontier to stop these practices. Several states requested per-violation civil penalties.

Frontier, which reorganized under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April 2020, refuted the complaint and promised a vigorous defense.

"Frontier believes the lawsuit is without merit," it said, adding the complaint "includes baseless allegations" and ignored important facts. These included that rural communities are the most technically difficult to serve and that its rural DSL service has many satisfied customers. "Frontier’s DSL Internet speeds have been clearly and accurately articulated, defined and described in the Company’s marketing materials and disclosures," it said.

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