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Office Depot, Inc.; Analysis To Aid Public Comment

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

Federal Trade Commission.

ACTION:

Proposed Consent Agreement.

SUMMARY:

The consent agreement in this matter settles alleged violations of federal law prohibiting unfair or deceptive acts or practices or unfair methods of competition. The attached Analysis to Aid Public Comment describes both the allegations in the draft complaint that accompanies the consent agreement and the terms of the consent order—embodied in the consent agreement—that would settle these allegations.

DATES:

Comments must be received on or before July 31, 2000.

ADDRESSES:

Comments should be directed to: FTC/Office of the Secretary, Room 159, 600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20580.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Joel Winston or Michael Dershowitz, FTC/S-4002, 600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20580. (202) 326-3153 or 326-3158.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Pursuant to Section 6(f) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 38 Stat. 721, 15 U.S.C. 46 and Section 2.34 of the Commission's Rules of Practice (16 CFR 2.34), notice is hereby given that the above-captioned consent agreement containing a consent order to cease and desist, having been filed with and accepted, subject to final approval, by the Commission, has been placed on the public record for a period of thirty (30) days. The following Analysis to Aid Public Comment describes the terms of the consent agreement, and the allegations in the complaint. An electronic copy of the full text of the consent agreement package can be obtained from the FTC Home Page (for June 29, 2000), on the World Wide Web, at “http://www.ftc.gov/​ftc/​formal.htm. A paper copy can be obtained from the FTC Public Reference Room, Room H-130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580, either in person or by calling (202) 326-3627.

Public comment is invited. Comments should be directed to: FTC/Office of the Secretary, Room 159, 600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20580. Two paper copies of each comment should be filed, and should be accompanied, if possible, by a 31/2 inch diskette containing an electronic copy of the comment. Such comments or views will be considered by the Commission and will be available for inspection and copying at its principal office in accordance with Section 4.9(b)(6)(ii) of the Commission's Rules of Practice (16 CFR 4.9(b)(6)(ii)).

Analysis of Proposed Consent Order To Aid Public Comment

The Federal Trade Commission has accepted, subject to final approval, an agreement containing a consent order from Office Depot, Inc. (“respondent”).

The proposed consent order has been placed on the public record for thirty (30) days for receipt of comments by interested persons. Comments received during this period will become part of the public record. After thirty (30) days, the Commission will again review the agreement and the comments received, and will decide whether it should withdraw from the agreement or make final the agreement's proposed order.

Respondent advertises, sells, and distributes office products, including personal computers. This matter concerns allegedly false and deceptive advertising claims regarding the sale of a $1,049.97 Compaq Presario 5716 computer system based upon a $400 rebate that required consumers to enter into a three year contract for Internet service and the sale of a “free” e machines computer based upon a similar $400 rebate.

The Commission's proposed complaint alleges that respondent falsely claimed that the total cost of a Compaq Presario 5716 computer system was $1,049.97. In fact, in order to obtain the system for $1,049.97, consumers were required to subscribe to CompuServe Internet Service for three years at an additional cost of $21.95 per month or a full payment of $790.20. The complaint also alleges that in representing that the total cost of the computer system was $1,049.97, respondent failed to disclose or failed to disclose adequately that: (a) Consumers were required to subscribe to CompuServe Internet service for three years at an additional cost of $21.95 per month or a full payment of $790.20; (b) consumers who cancel the Internet service within three years must repay the entire $400 rebate and pay a $50 cancellation fee; and (c) CompuServe does not provide local access telephone numbers for its Internet service in all areas, and therefore, that many Start Printed Page 41998consumers must either pay long distance telephone charges or surcharges of $6.00 per hour to access its Internet service. The complaint alleges that the failure to disclose these material facts is a deceptive practice.

In addition, the complaint alleges that respondent falsely claimed that a “free” e machines computer included a monitor at no additional cost. In fact, the monitor cost $139.99 or $199.99, depending on its size. The complaint also alleges that respondent falsely claimed that consumers could obtain the “free” e machines computer at no cost after rebates. In fact, in order to obtain the computer at no cost, consumers were required to subscribe to Prodigy Internet Service for three years at an additional cost of $19.95 per month or a full payment of $718.20. The complaint also alleges that in representing that consumers could obtain the “free” e machines computer at no cost after rebates respondent failed to disclose or failed to disclose adequately that: (a) Consumers were required to subscribe to Prodigy Internet service for three years at an additional cost of $19.95 per month or a total cost of $718.20; (b) consumers who cancel the Internet service within three years must repay the entire $400 rebate and pay a $50 cancellation fee; and (c) Prodigy does not provide local access telephone numbers for its Internet service in all areas, and therefore, that many consumers must either pay long distance telephone charges or surcharges of $6.00 per hour to access its Internet service. The complaint alleges that the failure to disclose these material facts is a deceptive practice.

The proposed consent order contains provisions designed to prevent respondent from engaging in similar acts and practices in the future.

Part I of the proposed order prohibits respondent from making any misrepresentations as to the price or cost to consumers of any computer, computer-related product, or Internet access service.

Part II of the proposed order prohibits respondent from making any representation about the price or cost to consumers of any computer, computer-related product, or Internet access service, when that price or cost, or any rebate, is conditioned upon the purchase of another product or service, unless respondent discloses clearly and conspicuously, and in close proximity to the price, cost or rebate representation that consumers must purchase the additional product or service in order to obtain the advertised price or rebate. In addition, Part II requires respondent to disclose the cost of the other product or service that must be purchased. Furthermore, if the advertised product or service is sold together with a service, respondent is also required to disclose the length of time that consumers are required to purchase that service. Part II also contains a proviso that permits respondent to use the terms “rebate” or “discount” without making the additional cost disclosers, as long as respondent does not describe or characterize the rebate or discount in any way.

Part III of the proposed order prohibits the respondent from making any representation about the price or cost of any Internet access service it offers for sale, unless it discloses certain material facts. If consumers have to pay additional fees, charges, rebate repayments, or other costs to cancel the Internet access service, the amounts of such costs must be disclosed. If consumers may have to pay long distance telephone charges, hourly surcharges, or other costs in excess of local telephone fees to access the Internet service, this fact must be disclosed, along with a means for consumers to ascertain whether or not they would have to incur such costs and the amounts of any such costs. These disclosures must be clear and conspicuous.

Part IV of the proposed order contains a document retention requirement, the purpose of which is to ensure compliance with the proposed order. It requires that respondent maintain copies of ads and promotional material that contain representations covered by the proposed order, and materials that were relied upon by respondent in disseminating the representations.

Part V of the proposed order requires respondent to distribute copies of the order to various officers, agents and employees of respondent.

Part VI of the proposed order requires respondent to notify the Commission of any changes in corporate structure that might affect compliance with the order.

Part VII of the proposed order requires respondent to file with the Commission one or more reports detailing compliance with the order.

Part VII of the proposed order is a “sunset” provision, dictating that the order will terminate twenty years from the date it is issued or twenty years after a complaint is filed in federal court, by the either the United States or the FTC, alleging any violation of the order.

The purpose of this analysis is to facilitate public comment on the proposed order. It is not intended to constitute an official interpretation of the agreement and proposed order or to modify in any way their terms.

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By direction of the Commission.

Donald S. Clark,

Secretary.

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[FR Doc. 00-17223 Filed 7-6-00; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 6750-01-M