Comcast Tries, Fails To Kill Lawsuit Over Its Hidden, Bogus Fees

from the I-see-what-you-did-there dept

Cable TV and broadband providers have created an art form out of advertising one price, then charging you something else entirely when your bill actually arrives. They accomplish this via the addition of sneaky below the line fees, which allow them to covertly raise rates while proudly crowing that they’ve keep their base rates the same. Some of these fess are downright obnoxious in how fraudulent they are, like CenturyLink’s “internet cost recovery fee.” Others, like the increasingly common “broadcast TV fee,” simply take a part of the cost of doing business (in this case programming), then bury it below the line to jack up the advertised price.

Comcast, an expert at this particular behavior, was sued for the practice late last year. The lawsuit specifically focused on Comcast’s use of the broadcast TV fee, which has quickly ballooned for Comcast customers from $1.50 per month to $6.50 since introduction, and the “Regional Sports Fee” that has quickly jumped from $1 to $4.50 since 2015. The lawsuit was also was quick to point out that when people call Comcast to complain, the company’s support reps often lie and insist that the fees are somehow government mandated to dodge accountability.

Amusingly, the company responded to the suit by trying to claim that covertly jacking up their advertised rate was just their way of being “transparent” (nothing quite says “transparency” like not knowing what your bill is going to be until after you’ve signed up for service). Comcast subsequently filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the company’s order submission process doesn’t technically create a binding contract with its customers, and that customers agreed to pay the fees by agreeing to the Comcast “Subscriber Agreement” and “Minimum Term Agreement.”

But US District Court Judge Vince Chhabria recently shot down this argument in a ruling that will keep the suit alive, for now:

“The motion to dismiss the breach of contract claim is denied. The plaintiffs have alleged the existence of a valid contract, which was created when [Comcast customers Dan] Adkins and [Christopher] Robertson submitted their order for Comcast services through Comcast’s website. It is plausible to infer from the complaint that, by clicking “Submit Your Order,” Adkins and Robertson agreed to pay Comcast’s advertised price, plus taxes and government-related fees, in exchange for the services Comcast offered them. It is also plausible to infer from the complaint that Comcast breached its agreements with the plaintiffs when it sent them bills charging them Broadcast TV and/or Regional Sports Fees (alleged to be neither taxes nor government-related fees) in excess of the agreed-upon price, and when it subsequently sought to raise the amount of the fees.”

Judge Chhabria also disputed Comcast’s claim that users technically agree to pay these fees by agreeing to the Comcast subscriber agreement, which only references “permitted fees and cost recovery charges,” and not these additional surcharges Comcast appears to have hallucinated out of whole cloth:

“As to the Minimum Term Agreement, the plaintiffs plausibly allege that they never saw this agreement at the time they submitted their order for services and have never consented to it,” the judge wrote. “Whether the plaintiffs had access to this agreement at the time they submitted their orders for services, or whether they subsequently consented to it, are disputed factual questions more appropriate for summary judgment.”

Comcast’s being additionally disingenuous here in part because as the owner of NBC, it very often is the broadcaster, and often owns the regional sports networks in question. Granted Comcast’s use of covert fees to covertly jack up the cost of service is something that has plagued the broadband and TV sectors in particular for years, though regulators and lawmakers have consistently turned a blind eye to the practice. Similar suits have been filed against Charter Communications, at which point the nation’s other extremely-disliked cable provider tried to claim it was simply providing an amazing consumer benefit.

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: comcast

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Comcast Tries, Fails To Kill Lawsuit Over Its Hidden, Bogus Fees”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
28 Comments
David says:

Amusingly? You didn't get the memo?

Amusingly, the company responded to the suit by trying to claim that covertly jacking up their advertised rate was just their way of being "transparent" (nothing quite says "transparency" like not knowing what your bill is going to be until after you’ve signed up for service).

Uh, don’t you keep up with Newspeak? At the time of the suit, Obama’s administration was the "most transparent administration in history".

And make no mistake "not knowing what your bill is going to be until after you’ve signed up for service" is a pretty good description of how compaign agenda and presidential execution by Obama matched.

In contrast, Trump is every bit as bad as his campaign suggested.

The telcoms just haven’t caught up yet to the new American way of honestly stating "we are going to screw you over and you’ll lick it up or else".

They will.

techclean says:

Re: just their way of being "transparent" ...

Comcast is famous for mocking your intelligence by ‘gaslighting’ (stating the total opposite of the obvious reality.) This is a form of psychological warfare used by sociopaths; the object is to discourage you by attempting to mock and humiliate you to make you feel powerless.

"A study published online in Personality and Individual Differences, found that individuals with the Dark Triad traits (narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism) are more likely to have studied business and economics."

http://www.medicaldaily.com/what-college-courses-do-psychopaths-choose-dark-triad-personality-most-likely-416812

“Americans pay so much because they don’t have a choice. Left to their own devices, companies that supply internet access will charge high prices because they face neither competition nor oversight.”

—Susan Crawford, author of ‘Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age’)

In Britain, regulators forced the incumbent monopolies to lease their networks to competitors at cost, which enabled new providers to enter the market and brought down prices dramatically.

"What we need is a new competition policy that puts the interests of consumers first, seeks to replicate what other countries have done, and treats with extreme skepticism the arguments of monopoly incumbents."

http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/we-need-real-competition-not-a-cable-internet-monopoly

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Amusingly? You didn't get the memo?

To be fair, it’s possible to see what they mean by this.

The claim is that by splitting out this part of the cost into a separate line item, rather than lumping it together with other costs into a single big number, they are being transparent about where the money the customer is being charged goes.

Where it becomes disingenuous is placing this separate line item “below the line”, so that it ends up being on top of the advertised price, rather than having all such universally-applicable items be enumerated “above the line” and then summed up into the advertised price.

butterfly fly away (profile) says:

Re: Re: Amusingly? You didn't get the memo?

Disingenuous or not they just added another dollar to this “broadcast fee” bringing it to $8 a month, $96 a year per customer. So obviously they aren’t worried about this suit or any other suit regarding the ways they take advantage of the consumer. They’re just laughing on the way to the bank knowing that even if they lose they win because as you can see it takes years for them to be held accountable, if ever, and they have had our money to use in the meantime. So they gamble and it looks like they win more than they lose. The deck is stacked against the consumer and the politicians are dealing out the cards.

afn29129 (profile) says:

Contract

“..arguing that the company’s order submission process doesn’t technically create a binding contract with its customers..”

That should be easy to prove or disprove. Let someone place an order and then try and cancel shortly afterwards. Surly Comcast then argue that the contract has been made, was made when the submit button was pressed, and that any attempt to backout will result in customer’s credit rating being dinged and bills sent to a collection agency.

Andrew Cook (profile) says:

Reading Comprehension

Judge Chhabria also disputed Comcast’s claim that users technically agree to pay these fees by agreeing to the Comcast subscriber agreement, which only references "permitted fees and cost recovery charges," and not these additional surcharges Comcast appears to have hallucinated out of whole cloth:

That’s not what the judge said, only that this isn’t the right time to deal with those issues.

  • Motion to Dismiss: The case needs to go away because there is something procedurally or facially wrong with it. ← The judge is ruling here.
  • Motion for Summary Judgement: The case needs to go away because even if what the other guy says is 100% true I’m still okay. ← The judge said that whether the plaintiffs agreed to the contract should be determined here.
  • Judgement on Merits: The case needs to go away because I’m right and the other guy’s wrong. ← The judge implied that whether the contract lets Comcast pile on the charges should be determined here.

I would really, really love for a judge to rule that those fees are barred, since that would open the door to all sorts of legal fun for them, but that’s not what Judge Chhabria ruled yet. We’ll just have to keep waiting.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Yeah, that “transparent” like in some developer and UX -speak, as in “transparent to the end user”. Meaning what happens is totally opaque, don’t worry about what is happening, you don’t need to be “distracted” by it. Also, you have no way to identify or fix problems, at least not natively (and you may be lucky to identify the problem using other tools). Suck it, customer.

Steve Goldfield says:

Comcast bogus billing

Comcast tried to bill me to rent a modem I purchased myself. When I got fed up, I closed my account and switched to AT&T. They then bill me for not returning a router. The only router I use I bought myself. And they billed me an early termination fee even though I had been a customer for years. So, I filed an FCC complaint. Three days later, they asked what they would have to do to have me drop the complaint. I said that if they took off those bogus charges, they would owe me $7.50. They sent me a check, and I dropped the complaint. Today, I got them to take four premium channels never requested from my 99-year-old mother’s account. I also asked Consumer Reports to investigate them. This is a huge scandal.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...