Windstream has paid $600,000 in a settlement with the Governors Office of Consumer Protection (GOCP) over allegations of false advertising and misrepresentation. Complaints alleging Windstream could not deliver its advertised Internet speeds and then misrepresented the time frame for resolving the speed issue prompted the GOCP to open an investigation last March.
At that time, an Atlanta CBS news affiliate spoke to Mark Creekmore, a computer consultant who works from home in Dawsonville, and said he is not getting what he paid for, and that his service slows drastically in the afternoon.
The $600,000 payment includes a civil penalty of $175,000, the same amount for administrative fees and expenses, and a $250,000 Cy Pres restitution to purchase computer equipment for the Technical College System of Georgia.
It would take so much time to investigate all the complaints and the dollar amount would be so small, that Cy Pres would apply, said John Sours, GOCP Administrator.
Cy Pres is French for as close as possible. In this case, since the issue deals with the Internet and therefore computers, the money went to purchase computers for a public institution.
While those who have been affected by the lack of advertised speed wont be getting any refunds, they can choose to cancel their Internet service, and Windstream will have to waive termination fees.
For those who registered complaints, however, Windstream is the only choice when it comes to an internet provider in the area, Sours said, unless users choose to invest in a satellite dish or pay for service on a smart phone with 3G capability.
They are the only real alternativeeven in the metro area, he said. We only have two or three, and two of them recently merged. Its a very problematic industry.
In addition to the monetary part of the settlement, Windstream signed an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance to make certain investments and improvements$14 million to upgrade its fiber-supported infrastructure.
Lumpkin and Dawson counties do have some fiber optic, but most Internet service outside of central business districts and commercial corridors is provided via copper wire.
It wont solve the issue of speed there, said GOCPs Shawn Conroy. Weve been talking about that for the past couple of weeks. We dont want people to think the problem is solved. This case was about advertising.
This is, essentially, a truth in advertising case, Sours said. What consumers thought they were getting from a major company was significantly different from what they allegedly received ... We are confident that this settlement will ensure that will not occur here.
Scott Morris, information officer with Windstream, released a statement saying that the company is committed to advertising its services in an ethical manner that adheres to legal and industry standards, and it has cooperated fully throughout the inquiry by Georgias Office of Consumer Protection. It also stated that the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance is not an admission of guilt in violating the Fair Business Practices Act, the document that allows the GOCP to make monetary settlements with companies accused of wrongdoing.
Windstream also stated in the Assurance that it is actively seeking and applying for federal funding as well as exploring other options for upgrading the Internet service for consumers who are served by network equipment supported by copper-fed wire.
Windstream has already made some improvements, Sours said.
And we will monitor them for 12-24 months to see that they do, in fact, carry out the improvements they have represented to us, he said.
Editor/Publisher Kimberly Boim contributed to this report