Docket number: UE-210902
Editor's Note: This news release reflects the position of staff of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) and NOT the views of the three-member commission. It discusses enforcement actions and penalties that the commissioners have not yet reviewed. Any positions taken or comments offered by commission staff regarding this proceeding should be attributed clearly to staff members and NOT to the UTC.
Staff found company violated pandemic disconnection ban
LACEY, Wash. - Today the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission filed a complaint against CenturyLink Communications LLC, doing business as Lumen Technologies, for disconnecting customers’ phone service during the COVID-19 pandemic in violation of the commission’s rules and a proclamation by the governor.
In an investigation, UTC staff found that CenturyLink and its affiliates violated commission rules by discontinuing service to 923 customers for non-payment. While the company can normally disconnect customers for nonpayment, in the early part of the pandemic Gov. Inslee issued Proclamation 20-23.2 temporarily barring Washington utilities from completing those disconnections.
Due to the severity of the potential harm to Washington consumers already facing economic strain during a global crisis, staff are asking that the commission assess CenturyLink a penalty up to $1,000 per violation, totaling $923,000.
During the investigation, CenturyLink asserted that 743 of the disconnections did not violate the governor’s proclamation because the company suspended the customer accounts, meaning that CenturyLink and its affiliates did not cancel the customers’ accounts but did stop their service. Staff found that while CenturyLink might differentiate between ‘disconnected’ and ‘suspended’ accounts internally, the company directly violated the intention of the governor’s proclamation by cutting customers off from service at a time when they were most vulnerable.
UTC staff initially discovered the disconnections after issuing a data request as part of the commission’s work to address the pandemic’s impact on customers and utilities in Washington.
The Utilities and Transportation Commission will hold a prehearing conference on May 23 to establish a schedule for reviewing the complaint.
- On April 12, 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a proclamation banning all energy, water, and telecommunication companies from disconnecting customers due to nonpayment, making it retroactive to March 23, 2020, and later extending it through Sept. 30, 2021.
- In 2020 the UTC organized a COVID-19 response workgroup of stakeholders to facilitate development of guidelines to make sure that customers experiencing economic hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic maintain access to essential services after the proclamation expires.
- As part of that work, the UTC issued a data request to regulated telecommunications companies, including CenturyLink. The data CenturyLink provided indicated that the company disconnected customers after the proclamation went into effect, so UTC staff opened an investigation to determine the extent of the disconnections.
CenturyLink is the largest local telephone company in Washington, serving approximately 650,000 residential and business lines.
The commission is the state agency that regulates the landline services of telephone companies operating in Washington. It is the commission’s responsibility to ensure regulated companies provide safe and reliable service to customers at reasonable rates, while allowing them the opportunity to earn a fair profit. The commission does not regulate the rates of broadband services, cellular, cable, or Internet service.