Fla. Probes AT&T Billing

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Florida's attorney general's office last week confirmed that an investigation of AT&T Broadband, initiated by complaints from the city of Jacksonville, has now been expanded statewide.

The state office is examining billing irregularities by the MSO, characterized as chronic overbilling and failure to acknowledge some payments. The state notified Jacksonville early in May that it would investigate that city's complaints.

The attorney general will determine if the billing errors rise to the level of false, deceptive or unfair trade practices.

AT&T Broadband obtained the Florida systems as part of its acquisition of MediaOne Group. Changes necessitated by the merger, such as a billing technology swap-out, generated so many consumer complaints that at times they swamped Jacksonville's municipal "one call" center.

At the peak of consumer confusion last June, the city logged 1,187 complaints, according to Jacksonville's director of regulatory and environmental services Mario Taylor. MediaOne's average complaint rate was 30 to 40 calls per month.

AT&T: 'CONFIDENT' OF OUTCOME

When the attorney general opened the billing investigation, AT&T Broadband spokeswoman Maureen O'Neill said the company was cooperating with the inquiry and expressed confidence the findings would conclude AT&T Broadband is in compliance with all laws.

David Lewis of the attorney general's economic crimes unit, which enforces consumer protection rules, said once the Jacksonville inquiry was publicized, the state office began receiving similar complaints from consumers and cities in other parts of Florida.

He said most of the complaints fall into the category of franchise disputes, but the state agency has received complaints he defined as chronic overbilling.

The operator may not be able to use the excuse that the billing errors are the result of technical problems. According to Lewis, billing errors don't have to be deliberate to violate state law.

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