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.

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 10:45am

    Charades and slapped wrists

    Granted these are the same regulators that routinely approve Comcast's merger requests to grow larger and less competitive, then act shocked at election time when this results in systemic fraud. Washington also is one of 19 states that let ISPs write and pass state protectionist laws hindering municipal broadband competitors.

    Given the above I can't help but think that this has nothing to do with actually protecting the public, and everything to do with trying to make it look like if Comcast abuses the monopoly position the state granted it it will be punished for it.

    "Sure we let them write the laws and make sure that no-one can come in and compete with them, but no worries, if they get out of line we'll absolutely go after them for that, so no need to object to the whole 'corporate written laws' bit."

    Comcast continues to rake in the money thanks to the lack of competition they bought, the state gets to pretend that they aren't just tools and will actually do something if Comcast steps out of line, and the public gets hosed.

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 11:15am

    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.

    Indeed. To make it hurt the fines must come with an obligation not to raise any prices for a determined period of time and limiting the next hikes. Of course even this will be cosmetic unless something is done to really foster competition like force ISPs to open their networks so others can sell the service, a Government owned and shared network and others.

    Not happening, too much money being injected to prevent it.

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

  • identicon
    Norahc, 2 Aug 2016 @ 11:19am

    Slight correction

    "Should Comcast lose the lawsuit, those costs are immediately going to be passed onto consumers"

    Needs to read:
    "Comcast is going to use this as an excuse to charge consumers more, regardless of they win or lose the lawsuit"

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

  • identicon
    DigDuggery, 2 Aug 2016 @ 11:41am

    No fines - null contracts...

    Instead of fines, nullify all contracts Scumcast has within the state, eminent domain 100% of the hardware and open it to any other ISP that wants to provide service over the infrastructure with a percentage of the fees to cover upkeep and enhancement.
    Oh, and prohibit Scumcast from providing service for at least a decade.

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

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 11:59am

    Government Overreach?

    Is the government trying to stop Comcast from continuing to achieve the status of Most Hated Company?

    (for the sarcasm impaired, I hope Comcast has to pay restitution and a very fine fine.)

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

  • identicon
    Gemma, 2 Aug 2016 @ 12:05pm

    Comcast equipment?

    ...including issues with Comcast HDMI and component cables,

    Except, by federal law, after wiring is installed in the home it no longer belongs to nor is the responsibility of the cable company. I wonder if the AG is claiming that there is some state law that supersedes federal law on this.

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

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 12:27pm

      Re: Comcast equipment?

      When I buy a car from Ford, it may belong to me, but it sure as hell is still Ford's responsibility if the engine falls out. Transfer of ownership in no way alleviates the responsibility of the manufacturer for defects. If Comcast wants to bitch at someone for bad cables that they provide, they can take it up with whomever they bought the cables from.

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

      • identicon
        Gemma, 2 Aug 2016 @ 12:37pm

        Re: Re: Comcast equipment?

        When I buy a car from Ford, it may belong to me, but it sure as hell is still Ford's responsibility if the engine falls out.

        That's an interesting claim. I've got an old Ford that needs a new engine. How do I make Ford replace it for me?

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

        • identicon
          Jeff, 2 Aug 2016 @ 1:32pm

          Re: Re: Re: Comcast equipment?


          That's an interesting claim. I've got an old Ford that needs a new engine. How do I make Ford replace it for me?

          Don't be dense. There's a difference between wear and tear, and manufacturing defects. Further, the complaint revolves around assertions the company made that for an ongoing fee, it would address service issues without charge in the future, but charged anyhow.

          If Ford had offered you an extended warranty on that engine, but then denied claims for supposedly covered work, that would be closer to an accurate analogy.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 6:50pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Comcast equipment?

            When I buy a car from Ford, it may belong to me, but it sure as hell is still Ford's responsibility if the engine falls out.

            I don't see anything about "wear and tear, and manufacturing defects" in that statement. You seem to making crap up.

            Further, the complaint revolves around assertions the company made that for an ongoing fee

            That's a different issue from JoeCool's claim. Maybe you're the one who should try being a little less dense.

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

    • 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."

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

      • identicon
        Gemma, 2 Aug 2016 @ 12:45pm

        Re: Re: Comcast equipment?

        Comcast’s promise of “We won’t charge you for a service visit that results from a Comcast equipment or network problem” seems to referring to what is still covered outside of the separate "Service Protection Plan". If Comcast is refusing to honor their "Service Protection Plan" then that's a different matter.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 12:07pm

    That's some nice campaign contributions you have there. It'd be a shame if something happened to them.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 12:18pm

    there is only one way to stem the tide of crap that Comcast, verizon and Time Warner dish out and that is to sue the politicians who keep not just allowing this sort of thing, but actively introduce laws to encourage it! investigations into who is being bankrolled by these cable companies and letting that info out may stir things enough to get some proper action!!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 12:40pm

    Exactly!

    I had internet signal problems and the tech that "fixed" the problem installed a drop amplifier "which fix Comcast signal problems" and Comcast charged me $75 for the "visit" since they deemed that because I had a single splitter on the run to my cable modem it wasn't their issue. So, in their eyes if you have your modem next to your TV you better have two cables to the box outside to feed each separately. Bastards.

    BTW, the drop amplifier did not solve the issue since it did not boost the data channels that my DOCSIS 2.0 modem was using to a level high enough for it to work reliably. In the end, to get reliable internet, I had to switch to a Docsis 3.0 modem.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 5:35pm

    Suing a monopoly on behalf of "the people" accomplishes nothing. The goal of government should be to keep companies from gobbling up their competitors and achieving monopoly status. Why didn't Washington State do anything about Comcast and Sprint buying up Clearwire, a rapidly growing competitor, and then shutting it down?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2016 @ 1:20am

    “We won’t charge you for a service visit that results from a Comcast equipment or network problem.”

    The service visit was a result of the customer calling us. We have no problem with our equipment or our network

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

  • identicon
    Philly Bob, 5 Aug 2016 @ 12:04am

    To avoid lawsuit, Comcast immediately buys the state of Washington in another corporate merger.

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

  • identicon
    Tanya Kennedy, 6 Jun 2017 @ 8:30pm

    hateing Com cast!

    Their real name should be con-cast. 9 times out of 10 there's t.v. trouble! But they still charge the same price! My bill is 500.00! But yet I have basic?! & basic svs, includes HBO?!!!
    Now I read how their ripping people off. They've done the same to me! Double billing, saying they aren't going to charge me for a tech call, but put it on my bill anyway! & saying its on your bill,but it also shows we took it off.
    I hope Comcast goes bankrupt!

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


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