centurylinkCenturyLink and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) agreed to a $550,000 cramming settlement today for charges that the company had placed unauthorized third-party charges and fees onto consumers’ bills.

The Communications Act forbids this practice, known as “cramming.” In addition to the financial settlement, CenturyLink has committed to a compliance plan designed to protect consumers and prevent future cramming.

During its investigation, the FCC Enforcement Bureau reviewed complaints from CenturyLink customers, who said that they discovered unauthorized third-party charges on their CenturyLink bills and, in some cases, had difficulty getting timely refunds.

CenturyLink has also agreed to cease billing for third parties, with certain narrow exceptions, and to implement a process for providing refunds or credits to customers with valid complaints about unauthorized charges.

The settlement is designed to strengthen CenturyLink customers’ ability to dispute unauthorized charges, including ensuring that customers are not required to first contact the third-party company to be eligible to receive a refund or to pay a disputed fee until that dispute is resolved.  CenturyLink will also allow customers to block future third-party charges and have available upon customers’ request all recent billing information related to third-party charges.

The company also commits to revise its processes, conduct staff training to avoid any further placement of unauthorized third-party charges on customers’ bills, and file regular compliance reports with the FCC.

“Over the years, the FCC has done yeoman’s work in fighting cramming and getting major phone companies to stop this practice,” said Rosemary Harold, chief of the Enforcement Bureau, in a prepared statement. “With today’s action, another major phone company will stop cramming and prevent unscrupulous third parties from adding fees to bills without prior express consent.”

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