SAN FRANCISCO -- Under a tentative settlement with state regulators, SBC Pacific Bell has agreed to pay what would be a record $27-million fine for billing tens of thousands of customers for high-speed Internet service they never requested.
Pacific Bell initially downplayed the problems but on Wednesday recognized them and promised to improve its DSL billing practices and promptly credit any customers who are billed improperly.
Since 1999, about 800 customers have complained to the state Public Utilities Commission that Pac Bell billed them--sometimes twice--for DSL services they didn't order, didn't receive or wanted to drop. Under the settlement, the company acknowledged incorrectly billing 30,000 to 70,000 customers.
DSL, which stands for digital subscriber line, is a high-speed Internet service that works over ordinary telephone lines but is many times faster than standard dial-up connections.
One customer said that a month after inquiring about DSL service, she received a bill charging her $99.95 for activation and a monthly service fee.
"I didn't even have a computer at the time," Bobby Schaefer of San Diego said. "I was gathering information."
If approved by the commission and an administrative judge, the fine would go to the state's general fund.
It would be the largest levied by state utility regulators, surpassing the $25.6 million Pac Bell was fined last year for misleading marketing tactics.
Pacific Bell, a unit of San Antonio-based SBC Communications Inc., has about 800,000 DSL customers. The company said it had created a new DSL billing center with 100 on its staff.