Washington State Sues Comcast For Routinely Ripping Off Its Customers

from the customer-service-is-our-top-priority dept

Washington State has sued Comcast for, well, being Comcast. A new lawsuit filed by the state this week (pdf) accuses the cable giant of 1.8 million violations of Washington state’s Consumer Protection Act (CPA), including misrepresenting the scope of the company's "Service Protection Plan," charging customers improper service call fees and improper credit screening practices. More specifically, the lawsuit states that Comcast misled more than 500,000 Washington State customers by charging them $5 per month for this protection plan, then intentionally hitting them with fees for services the monthly fee should have covered.

As it stands, the company repeatedly sold the plan as being "comprehensive," covering all service calls, including those related to inside wiring, customer-owned equipment connected to Comcast services and "on-site education about products." But when customers called up thinking they'd then get a break from Comcast on service charges, the company would routinely bill customers for all manner of services that should have been covered under the plan:
Comcast’s Customer Guarantee promises: “We won’t charge you for a service visit that results from a Comcast equipment or network problem.” Comcast discloses no limitations on this guarantee. Contrary to this promise, Comcast charged thousands of Washington customers for service calls that resulted from a Comcast equipment or network problem, including issues with Comcast HDMI and component cables, Comcast cable cards, and the installation of drop amplifiers, which fix Comcast signal problems.
Anticipating that Comcast would claim this sort of thing was accidental or the behavior of some rogue support technicians, the AG's office pointed out that billing customers for things that should have been covered under the protection plan was so routine, Comcast had actually created a specific technician code allowing them to sock consumers with charges they never should have been subject to:
"In addition, until approximately June 2015, Comcast provided its technicians with a service call fix code that expressly allowed them “to add service charges to a normally not charged fix code.” In other words, the company created a code for technicians to add charges to a service call that should be provided at no cost."
Of course if you've followed Comcast over the years, this is a relatively minor offense for a company that works tirelessly to take full advantage of the lack of competition, especially in its broadband markets. And while for a decade now Comcast annually informs the press it's doing everything in its power to shore up what's statistically the worst customer service of any company in America, apparently eliminating systemic, routine fraud from the company's repertoire was somehow overlooked until the AG's office became involved last year. Whoops a daisy!

Granted these are the same regulators that routinely approve Comcast's merger requests to grow larger and less competitive, then act shocked after the fact when this time, and time, and time again results in systemic fraud. Washington also is one of 19 states that let ISPs write and pass state protectionist laws hindering municipal broadband competitors. Meanwhile, Washington State AG Bob Ferguson is up for re-election; surely only coincidental as he targets what is probably the easiest, most broadly-hated target in politics: ye olde cable company.

Should Comcast lose the lawsuit, those costs will be immediately passed on to consumers that -- at least if they want a relatively fast broadband connection -- will in most cases have no alternatives to switch to.

Filed Under: broadband, cable tv, consumer protection, washington, washington cpa


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 12:33pm

    Re: Comcast equipment?

    Disclaimer: I am accepting as true the allegations described in the Techdirt article. I have not researched whether Comcast actually did the things of which it is accused. However, given Comcast's history, I would be surprised if the allegations were untrue.

    Federal law may provide that the company is not automatically legally responsible for the wiring after installation, but the company offered to its customers that it would support that wiring. To me, that seems like the company purported to accept a burden it was not legally required to accept. Once so accepted, it then treated customers in a way different from the marketing materials promised. Comcast could have availed itself of that Federal law by refusing to support wiring it did not own. It did not. Instead, it pretended to provide free support for that wiring, then turned around and charged customers who actually used that support.

    The reference to "Comcast equipment" may also be shorthand for "equipment that was previously purchased by Comcast and then installed in the customer's home" rather than "equipment owned by Comcast."

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