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UTC fines CenturyLink $923,000 for illegal telephone disconnections during COVID-19 pandemic

LACEY, Wash., July 6, 2023—Last week, the Utilities and Transportation Commission issued an initial order fining CenturyLink Communications LLC, doing business as Lumen Technologies, $923,000 for involuntarily disconnecting or suspending nearly 1,000 telephone accounts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A UTC administrative law judge found that Lumen unlawfully disconnected 923 customers from service during Governor Jay Inslee’s emergency proclamation that lasted from March 2020 through September 30, 2021.

The order assessed a $1,000 penalty per violation to address the serious and harmful impacts to the public.  

Lumen argued it should not be penalized because the disconnections were inadvertent and only affected a small percentage of its customers.

When considering the penalty amount, the order said: “These violations are both serious and harmful to the public. . . In this case, 923 individual customers were unlawfully disconnected from service during a time when the Governor of Washington determined that telecommunication service is an essential service, and that maintaining access to such service was essential to protect the health and welfare of Washington residents.”

The order goes on to say: “[Lumen’s arguments] . . . in no way alter our assessment of the impact on the businesses, households, and individuals who were deprived of their means of connecting with employers, loved ones, and emergency services during a global health crisis…”

On May 29, 2020, due to spread of the COVID-19 virus in Washington state and the high risk it posed to the state’s most vulnerable populations, Gov. Inslee issued emergency proclamation 20-23.2 prohibiting all telecommunications providers in Washington from disconnecting any residential customers from telecommunications service due to nonpayment.

On April 6, 2022, the commission, through its staff, filed a complaint against CenturyLink after discovering the company disconnected customers during the governor’s moratorium on disconnections.

Staff identified the violations after a data request to all telecommunications companies following the end of the moratorium on disconnections.

The company has 20 days to request review by the UTC commissioners.

CenturyLink is the largest local telephone company in Washington, serving approximately 650,000 residential and business lines.

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