Gannett Satellite Information Network, Inc. (GANSAT), a subsidiary of Gannett Co., Inc., has agreed to pay a $30,000 civil penalty to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it violated the Commission's 900 Number Rule in advertising its various 900 number services, including sports, news, horoscopes, weather reports and entertainment programs and other topics. The challenged ads appeared in USA Today, which is also owned by Gannett. The FTC also alleged that GANSAT charged consumers for the introductory messages to its 900 number programs, which under the rule, are supposed to be free. These messages give consumers key pricing information and the chance to hang up before the program begins and avoid being charged.
GANSAT is based in Arlington, Virginia.
The FTC alleged that GANSAT, in advertising the 900 number services, failed to make appropriate cost disclosures in some of its newspaper ads, failed to include the parental permission advisory in the introductory message to some of its pay-per-call programs and billed callers for some introductory, or "preamble" time.
The Commission's 900 Number Rule, which became effective in November 1993, establishes requirements for advertising and operating pay-per-call services, and mandates, for example, that the provider of a pay-per-call service include cost and other disclosures both in advertisements and in the introductory message to the service. The rule also establishes procedures for consumers to dispute pay-per-call service charges on their telephone bills (these are similar to the procedures for consumers who dispute charges on their credit card bills).
The FTC complaint alleges that GANSAT's violations to the 900 Number Rule occurred in ads that appeared in USA Today between Nov. 1, 1993 and March 31, 1994, and in preambles during that same time period.
Under the settlement, which requires the court's approval to become binding, GANSAT has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $30,000. GANSAT also has agreed not to violate the rule in the future and to provide copies of the rule to certain contractors and to include the rule's provisions in contractual requirements with such contractors. The settlement also would require GANSAT to provide prompt investigation and response to consumer complaints regarding its 900 number services.
The complaint and proposed consent decree were filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, in Alexandria, on Sept. 21 by the Department of Justice at the request of the FTC. The consent is subject to court approval. The Commission vote to authorize filing was 5-0.
NOTE: This consent decree is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the company that it violated the law. Consent decrees have the force of law when signed by the judge.
The Commission has developed two brochures for consumers, titled, "'900' Numbers: New Rule Helps Consumers" and "800 Numbers" that explain some of the issues raised by this case and offer information about the 900 Number Rule and consumers' rights under it.
Copies of the brochures and the complaint and consent decree are available from the FTC's Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest FTC news as it is announced, call the FTC's NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web Site at: http://www.ftc.gov
(FTC File No. 942 3124) (Civil Action No. 95-1311-A)