Comcast Sued For Misleading Fees It Claims Are Just Its Way Of Being 'Transparent'
from the transparently-obnoxious dept
In addition to vanilla price hikes and usage caps and overage penalties, ISPs have spent the last few years borrowing a tactic from the banking industry to covertly jack up the advertised price of broadband service: the completely nonsensical hidden fee. From CenturyLink’s $2 per month “Internet Cost Recovery Fee” to Fairpoint’s $3 per month “Broadband Cost Recovery Fee,” such fees usually just hide some of the cost of doing business below the line, letting an ISP advertise one price, then charge something quite different at the end of the month.
Encouraged by the fact that the FCC can’t be bothered to police this behavior, a few years ago Comcast began charging its cable customers a “Broadcast TV fee.” At the time, Comcast proudly proclaimed it was just being “transparent” by taking a portion of the retransmission fees paid to broadcasters and putting it below the line:
“Beginning in 2014, we will itemize a portion of broadcast retransmission costs as a separate line item to be more transparent with our customers about the factors that drive price changes,” he said. ?In 2014, we will not increase the price of Limited Basic or Digital Preferred video service, and adjustments to other video service prices will be lower than they would have been without the Broadcast TV Fee.”
The problem with this logic is two fold. One, the money Comcast pays to broadcasters for programming is the cost of doing business as a cable company and should be included in the overall bill. Two, this is effectively little more than Comcast advertising a lower rate, only to shock users with a higher bill. It’s false advertising, which is about as far from being “transparent” with consumers as you can get. Yet again, you’d be hard pressed to see the FCC so much as mention this sort of behavior, despite occasional, breathless announcements that the regulator is very concerned about transparency in the cable and broadband sector.
Fast forward to this week, when eight plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit against the cable giant alleging consumer fraud, unfair competition, unjust enrichment and breach of contract for trying to covertly raise rates while the users were supposed to be under a locked-in rate:
“Lead plaintiff Dan Adkins, of California, says Comcast started using “a shady backdoor way to increase prices” in January 2014. He says the company added a “newly invented” Broadcast TV fee to cable bills without clearly disclosing the price hike to customers or updating its advertisements to reflect the new prices. “Comcast not only charged the fee to new customers, but also added the charge to the bills of existing customers in violation of their contracts which had promised a flat monthly rate for the term of the contract,” Adkins says in the 79-page complaint.”
Like all Comcast pricing, the lawsuit also points out that Comcast has relentlessly raised the fee from $1.50 when introduced, to $6.50 per month this year, a 333% increase in just three years. And while FCC data makes it clear that programming retransmission fees are skyrocketing, again — that’s the cost of doing business as a cable company (also remember that Comcast NBC Universal is also a broadcaster). The lawsuit is also quick to point out that Comcast is among several cable companies that began charging regional sports fees last year. In Comcast’s case (as the owner of Comcast Sportsnet), the lawsuit notes how that fee was also bumped by 350% in just a few years, from $1.00 to $4.50 per month.
Trying to mislead customers by advertising one rate — then socking them with a notably higher bill — doesn’t seem like the actions of a company that repeatedly insists it’s dedicated to fixing some of the worst customer satisfaction ratings of any company, in any industry in America.