Did Comcast's Infamous Customer Service Call Open The Company Up To Legal Troubles For Lying About Speeds?

from the questions-to-ponder... dept

So, last week, that customer service call between Ryan Block and a Comcast "retention specialist" who refused to take "cancel the damn service" for an answer went viral. Comcast has since apologized, said it was investigating, and insisted that the call was "not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives." I doubt many people actually believe that -- but it may be even more serious than most people realize.

That's because, throughout the call, the nameless representative keeps insisting that Comcast's broadband is the fastest. And that's not true. Which raises some potentially serious questions about Comcast directly misleading customers.
“You’re not interested in the fastest Internet in the country?” the rep asked goadingly. “Why not?”

Were it true, it would be a convincing bit of rhetoric. The problem is, Comcast is not the fastest Internet service provider in the United States -- at least, not according to the most recent survey from Speedtest.net and PC Magazine. Published in September 2013, the survey ranks Comcast the third fastest broadband provider, behind Midcontinent Communications at No. 2 and Verizon FiOS at No. 1. “Verizon FiOS continues to set the pace for Internet speed in the United States,” the magazine wrote.
IBTimes asked a Comcast PR person, who insisted that the company does not claim to be the fastest internet in the country, nor does it train its reps to make that claim. But it's undeniable that the guy said exactly that many, many times during the call, and it sure sounded like it was coming from a script that he'd read pretty damn often. The report also notes that the guy repeatedly called Comcast the "number 1 rated" provider, but that's equally questionable. IBTimes did call up pretending to be a potential customer and couldn't get any other reps to repeat the "fastest internet in the country" line -- suggesting that it might not be on a script -- but it is worth noting that they were talking to a different type of rep. Block was being handled by special "customer retention" specialists -- so it might be more interesting to see if those guys have that line in their script. Though, at this point, I'd imagine Comcast has pretty carefully scrubbed those scripts.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2014 @ 1:10pm

    Since when...

    Did companies lying about the services they are offering become illegal?

    I mean... you cannot find a since person in America not previously screwed by a lying corporation looking to lock you into a contract.

    Yes, I know it is technically illegal for a company to misrepresent their products, but shit... this is so damn commonplace that no one cares anymore!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 22 Jul 2014 @ 1:14pm

      Re: Since when...

      Are you seriously saying that "because everyone's doing it" makes it right?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2014 @ 1:29pm

        Re: Re: Since when...

        Good grief no! Most of the was sarcasm and despair.

        I meant to add at the bottom... justice and privilege are for those with the money to afford them or fight for them, rights don't really exist.

        I think, after this about of abuse from lying ass companies getting flat away with all of that lying, the government is clearly a paid whore for big business.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      jupiterkansas (profile), 22 Jul 2014 @ 1:21pm

      Re: Since when...

      Fraudulent advertising has been illegal for sometime. That's why they promote opiniony facts like "best internet service" rather than "fastest internet service" unless they have facts to back it up.

      The trick is to avoid lying so big that the government gets interested in investigating. This viral phone call is big enough.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2014 @ 1:33pm

        Re: Re: Since when...

        Yep, and they juice the shit out of it, but you can go anywhere and find a lie or two, but you will find very little will for the "Authorities" to chase it down and provide due diligence if you report them.

        I have long become a... believe it when I see it person. This being a prime example... at most something of a dog and pony show will happen to appease the masses while the regulators finish receiving a fresh round of blow jobs by the industry.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        art guerrilla (profile), 23 Jul 2014 @ 8:59am

        Re: Re: Since when...

        1. and *how* often are these things you call 'laws' and 'regulations' actually enforced upon the 1% ? ? ?
        sure, you, me, any of the 99% 'lie', and we end up in jail or tasered to death; but the 1% ? they skate off with their pockets filled with our gold...
        the 'laws' mean NOTHING without the impartial enforcement...

        2. which gets to the point of when is a 'lie' a 'lie', and when is it dismissed as mere 'puffery' ? ? ?
        in practice, the 1% can tell ANY egregious lie they want, and it will be defined out of existence...
        thus, "Up To 50 Mbs!", etc, may not technically be a 'lie', but it has NO MEANING...
        hell, back in the day when we were on 330 baud connections, the ISP *could* have said "Up To 1 Zillion Gps!" and get away with it... IT HAS NO MEANING...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 22 Jul 2014 @ 1:13pm

    I would hope it does expose them to legal liability. As I've pointed out before on here, that's fraud, and fraud is supposed to expose you to legal liability.

    It seems like everyone these days is in the fraud business, from airlines (selling more seats on a flight than they have available) to ISPs (promising speed and connectivity and not delivering as promised) to insurance companies (selling contracts requiring them to pay out under certain circumstances, and then doing everything possible to avoid paying out when a claim is filed.) It's about time We The People start pushing back and saying "no, you don't get to weasel out of things. Keep your word or go out of business and let someone who can actually do the job right take over."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JohnG (profile), 22 Jul 2014 @ 1:22pm

      Re:

      It may or may not rise to the level of fraud. Yes, the rep made a factually false statement. Whether he actually knew it was false is a different matter (though it's not a stretch to think he probably knew). But it doesn't appear Ryan relied on that statement when making the decision to cancel Comcast, and as a result there was no material harm to Ryan because of it.

      It is obviously lying, but I don't know if it rises to the level of fraud.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2014 @ 1:43pm

        Re: Re:

        Perhaps it doesn't rise to the level of fraud. However, if the rep knew about it, he was trying to retain a customer by lying - which certainly reaches the level of attempted fraud, which I believe is also a criminal offence.

        This leads me to ponder: If a corporation can be enough of a "person" to have free speech rights, why is it not enough of a "person" to be criminally liable?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2014 @ 1:21pm

    > The report also notes that the guy repeatedly called Comcast the "number 1 rated" provider

    Just like how chlamydia is the number 1 rated STD!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    SolkeshNaranek (profile), 22 Jul 2014 @ 1:37pm

    Comcast and Reddit AMA - at the same time?

    I am following your AMA (good responses btw) and also noted this article going up at them same time.

    That is some clever multitasking, or perhaps you have minions chained in your basement creating articles? ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gwiz (profile), 22 Jul 2014 @ 2:28pm

      Re: Comcast and Reddit AMA - at the same time?

      I am following your AMA (good responses btw) and also noted this article going up at them same time.


      I'm pretty sure that Techdirt has article queue that releases the articles at certain intervals.

      That's what the Crystal Ball feature for the Insiders is all about - you get to see the stories in the queue before they are published to everyone else.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 22 Jul 2014 @ 2:59pm

      Re: Comcast and Reddit AMA - at the same time?

      That is some clever multitasking, or perhaps you have minions chained in your basement creating articles? ;)


      Trade secret.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Laroquod (profile), 24 Jul 2014 @ 6:36am

      Re: Comcast and Reddit AMA - at the same time?

      Only a total amateur blogger (and a newbie at that!) would post every single blog post the moment it's written. There is no big secret here.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2014 @ 1:38pm

    "legal troubles"

    Comcast is a company that bends FTC and FCC regulators over their desks on a regular basis. A company that slaps away anti-trust lawyers like flies from their picnic Jell-o. They even own a controlling stake in Congress.

    Comcast does not have legal troubles, my friend.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 22 Jul 2014 @ 2:02pm

    Mockup?

    Subsequent to the prior article, it occurred to me that maybe the entire thing was mock-up. All it would take is someone to play annoyed customer, someone to play stubborn customer shill, and a recorder.

    Could this be made up?

    Guess what happens if it is...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2014 @ 3:35pm

    I wish I had been able to record it at the time but about 10 years ago when I had just bought my house in a rural area and was getting the internet service hooked up(Qwest) I was promised all kinds of things and not a single one of them was true. So when the guy came out to hook it up and told me the only service they even have in the area was slightly faster than basic dial up service I was quite pissed and called them to complain and get what I paid for. The service representative for Qwest flat out told me that the sales people can tell the potential customers anything they want to get them to sign on for a service and it doesn't matter if it's available or not.
    Now I'm in the city and using Comcast and their reps aren't much better, either incompetent idiots from call centers over seas that barely speak english or if you're lucky you get the same thing in the USA, but they still promise all kinds of things and barely deliver on any of it if at all. So it's no surprise to hear that guy make all those false claims cause Comcast knows not a damn thing will happen, they've all been doing it forever and nothing ever happens.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Digitari, 22 Jul 2014 @ 3:37pm

    If Job Hunting was like Advertising.......

    "I can work upto 8 hours a day."

    "I can work upto 5 days a week"



    (my friend just reminded me, I have never worked a union job or help public office.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2014 @ 3:40pm

    comcast isn't the only company that employs this approach. Bell does exactly the same thing. if you phone them up, as a relation of mine did, you are told that the only way you can get new equipment is to change whatever plan you're on. their router was 8 years old and they were being charged $5 a month rental on top of not even being offered, let alone sent, a new one! after being told this, they had to talk to the loyalty dept who couldn't help unless asking someone higher up the ladder. that led to cancelling their contract. then the fun started with bell phoning every couple of days trying to get them to stay. they were offered a new router/modem, much faster speed and a better price. when asked why that wasn't offered previously, there was no reason given. that led the cancellation to continue. just a couple of days left and they will be much better off, hopefully at any rate!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Digitari, 22 Jul 2014 @ 4:10pm

      Re: Government Sanctioned

      Talk to a Military Recruiter and be 18-19 years old, I dare ya!!!!!!!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Andrew D. Todd, 22 Jul 2014 @ 7:33pm

      The Electric Company Does It Too:

      I haven't posted for a month or so. Last month we had a fire, in an apartment upstairs from me. The fire sprinkler did its stuff, and knocked down the fire, but there was some water damage to those of us down below. I was very lucky, and lost hardly anything of my books, papers, and computers, mostly because they were stored in cabinets along the walls of the rooms, whereas the water was mostly coming down through the light fixtures in the centers of the rooms. The landlord moved me to an undamaged apartment, but I've spent much of the last month getting my books sorted out again, a few hundred books each day.

      At any rate, when I contacted the local electric company to sort out the service change, they connected me to a "relocation specialist," who turned out to be a high-pressure salesman for cable television and/or satellite dishes. It doesn't matter which you want, he gets his commission either way.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon E. Mus, 22 Jul 2014 @ 4:58pm

    (Pittsburgh accent)

    "We never said they were the fastest speeds in the country, just the fastest speeds available!" *wink wink*

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gabriel J. Michael (profile), 22 Jul 2014 @ 5:28pm

    Their TV commercials lie, too

    There's a current Comcast (excuse me--Xfinity) TV commercial right now that shows a 2 GB file (a television show) downloading on a tablet in less than 10 seconds.

    That works out to about 1.6 Gbps (assuming 8 gigabits per gigabyte). Yet the fastest service Comcast offers is something like 105 Mbps.

    Seems like false advertising to me. Wish I could find a recorded version of it to call them out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      beltorak (profile), 22 Jul 2014 @ 11:47pm

      Re: Their TV commercials lie, too

      look for the fine print; it might say it's a dramatization, that screenshots are simulated, the "loyal customer" is actually a "paid actor", or anything else that leads to the defense that what they show you on tv is a fantasy. Of course there's always some form of "YMMV" - which covers a lot of bases, but has the drawback that the cattle have caught on to that particular line.

      Don't blink, or you'll miss it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 23 Jul 2014 @ 8:28am

      Re: Their TV commercials lie, too

      It's exactly the same sort of false advertising that is widespread among advertising. In other words, it's not specific to Comcast, or even to tech stuff. Most TV advertising is chock full of that sort of deception.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    slick8086, 22 Jul 2014 @ 8:30pm

    fastest

    he didn't mean fastest in the country as in USA, he meant fastest in the country like a country song, you know out in the sticks, where the country folk live, you know, for the fast internet and all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Raging Alcoholic, 23 Jul 2014 @ 5:30pm

    Puffery

    Is it still consider "puffery" if you paid psychologist a ton of money to help you with your phone sales.

    If you pay over a million dollars for an ad campaign that misleads is that "puffery".

    These people know what triggers buying. Anything that influences buying (or retaining services) should be considered a material fact.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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