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Qwest pays $1.5 million, ends outcry

Settlement deal ends FCC’s investigation, charges of slamming

SHARE Qwest pays $1.5 million, ends outcry

Qwest Communications International Inc., which bought local-phone company US WEST Inc., agreed Friday to pay $1.5 million to settle complaints it switched long-distance phone customers without permission.

The Federal Communications Commission said Qwest will improve verification procedures when customers are switched between long-distance carriers. Denver-based Qwest will set financial incentives to discourage third-party sales agents from changing a customer's preferred long-distance carrier, the FCC said.

The agency said 30 customer complaints were filed about Qwest's action, known as slamming, including 22 customers who said their signatures were forged on documents authorizing a change. FCC rules require companies to get a customer's written permission, or use an independent company to verify the change, before a customer is switched.

"This agreement with the FCC allows us to put this unfortunate situation behind us," said Mark Pitchford, senior vice president for consumer markets. Complaints about unauthorized changes have declined to the industry average, he said.

Qwest adopted an anti-slamming policy after the complaints were filed, the company said. Since the policy took effect, Qwest dismissed more than 25 sales agents or telemarketing agencies that used fraudulent orders to sign up new customers, he said.

In June, WorldCom Inc., the second largest U.S. long-distance phone company, agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle slamming complaints, a record payment by a U.S. carrier, the FCC said. So far this year, the FCC has fined U.S. companies more than $10 million for slamming.

Qwest shares fell 5/8 to 55 in New York Stock Exchange trading of 7.8 million.