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Verizon fined for overcharging some low-income phone customers
Sept. 10, 2009
Docket Number: UT-090073

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Under a settlement effective today, Verizon Northwest Inc. will pay an almost $40,000 penalty for failing to charge the correct telephone rates for some low-income customers.

An administrative law judge approved a Sept. 1 settlement agreement between staff members of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) and Verizon. That decision becomes effective today following a 20-day review period.

Under the settlement, Verizon agreed to pay a penalty of $39,600 for violating state law by overcharging Washington Telephone Assistance Program (WTAP) customers on 47 occasions and for incorrectly billing city taxes to 26 customers who reside outside city limits. WTAP is the state program designed to make sure low-income families and individuals in our state have access to affordable telephone service.

Verizon also agreed to pay $10,000 toward a statewide WTAP public educational campaign to promote the rate discounts that help low-income residents maintain access to local telephone services. The program, spearheaded by the UTC, began last week.

The agreement calls for an additional penalty of $39,900 to be suspended and waived after six months if Verizon complies with the terms of the settlement.

Verizon agreed to a comprehensive plan to address billing and compliance concerns under terms and conditions in the settlement, including:

Establishing a process to investigate consumer complaints and inquiries regarding incorrect billing of city utility taxes as well as investigating neighboring customers, and issuing appropriate credits in a timely manner.
Giving out “refresher” written communications to all call center representatives that describe proper handling of WTAP applications.
Instituting a process where complaint, Lifeline and call center teams collaborate to analyze WTAP-related customer complaints.

The settlement agreement between the company and UTC staff members was filed last month and the original complaint in March. UTC staff has conducted three investigations of Verizon’s business practices since 2005. In the initial investigation, staff found an increasing number of complaints from WTAP-eligible Verizon customers, many of whom alleged the company provided incorrect information about the program and failed to charge the discounted rates for the phone service. The most recent investigation was conducted in December 2008. Staff found that more than one-third of Verizon customer complaints were from WTAP participants.

The UTC is the state agency in charge of regulating the rates and services of telephone companies operating in Washington.

Verizon, formerly known as GTE, is the second-largest local telephone provider in Washington, serving 518,341 phone lines in cities such as Redmond, Kirkland, Everett, Bothell, Woodinville, Wenatchee, Kennewick, Pullman, Chelan, Richland, Naches, Westport, Lynden, Anacortes, Mount Vernon, Newport, Oakesdale, Republic and Camas-Washougal.


Editor’s note: A copy of today’s filing may be found at


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