Phone company ordered to pay Calif. $24.4M in fees

TracFone Wireless, phone co. owned by Carlos Slim, ordered to pay Calif. $24.4M in unpaid fees

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A phone company owned by the world's richest man, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, has been ordered by the state's public utility regulator to pay California $24.4 million in unpaid fees and interest.

TracFone Wireless, a prepaid phone company owned by tycoon, didn't pay fees required of all regulated telecommunications companies, according to a July 11 decision from ALJ McKinney, the California Public Utilities Commission's Presiding Officer.

No penalty is warranted, regulators said, but because no fees or surcharges were collected from customers up front, the company will bear the cost.

TracFone can appeal or request review within 30 days of the decision.

An email seeking comment from TracFone wasn't immediately returned and there was no answer at their listing.

The Consumer Protection and Safety Division brought action against TracFone, saying the company didn't collect user fees from 2004 through 2012 or pay surcharges for public programs, like the Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Program, from 2000 through 2012.

TracFone began paying the various fees following a decision in 2012. This month's order assesses the fees owed from before that decision.

Part of the issue was an exemption in state law for phone debit cards. TracFone believed it fell under that exemption, but the state disagreed, according to the order.

TracPhone's prepaid wireless service, sold under TracFone, Net10 and SafeLink brands at many retailers, including Wal-Mart and RadioShack, requires customers to purchase a mobile phone and then buy minutes to use it.

TracFone described itself as the largest operator in the U.S. prepaid cellular market with approximately 16 million subscribers across the country, the order said.

For the fourth consecutive year, Slim was named the world's richest man by Forbes in March, when his net worth tallied $73 billion.

TracFone is a subsidiary of Mexico City-based America Movil.

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