The Federal Communications Commission has fined WebNet Communications $1.2 million for "slamming" -- switching consumers' long-distance service without permission. It's one of the larger recent fines for slamming and is the first time the FCC has launched a joint effort with state regulators to enforce anti-slamming rules.

The FCC said it and 14 state agencies began investigating WebNet in 2001 after receiving complaints from 185 consumers.

The FCC said WebNet's sales pitch was intended to confuse consumers about whether or not they were changing phone carriers. It released the following script of the company's pitch:

"Thank you for choosing WebNet as your long distance and local long distance provider. You have been selected to receive $100 just for trying our new 7 cent calling plan for all your interstate calls in the continental United States for 180 days. Restrictions may apply, void where prohibited.

"Please answer the following questions. Please state your name and address. Are you the decision-maker choosing WebNet as your long distance and local long distance provider? Please say 'yes' at the tone. For security purposes, state your date of birth or your mother's maiden name at the tone."

The FCC said the script did not meet its criteria, which require that companies determine these six things:

  • the identity of the subscriber;
  • confirmation that the person on the call is authorized to make the carrier change;
  • confirmation that the person on the call wants to make the change;
  • the names of the carriers affected by the change;
  • the telephone numbers to be switched; and
  • the types of service involved.

WebNet's sales pitches confirmed only one of the six requirements, the FCC said. It said the company's calls showed "a pattern of intentional and egregious misconduct."

WebNet, based in McLean, Va., responded that the FCC was attempting government censorship by dictating the specific content of sales pitches.

The states involved in the joint investigation were Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, missouri, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.