Legal Issues

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
charges, fcc, fraud, scams

Companies:
comcast



FCC: Comcast Routinely Charges Customers For Hardware, Services Never Ordered

from the earning-your-awful-reputation dept

When you're among the worst ranked companies for customer service in America, you consistently need to find new ways to ramp up your game if you want to take malicious incompetence to the next level. Enter Comcast, which despite constant promises that it's getting better, routinely keeps finding itself in the headlines for immeasurably shady business practices. Earlier this year, for example, the company was sued by Washington's Attorney General for charging users a $5 per month "Service Protection Plan," then routinely and intentionally charging users for repairs that should have been covered under it.

This week, America's least-liked companies is finding itself in the headlines for another misleading practice: errantly and routinely billing customers for hardware or services they never ordered. According to a new FCC announcement, Comcast will be paying the agency $2.3 million to settle an investigation into the behavior. According to the FCC, Comcast apparently likes to charge customers for premium cable channels, hardware, or other services the customer never ordered and may have expressly refused:
"The Commission received numerous complaints from consumers alleging that Comcast added charges to their bills for unordered services or products, such as premium channels, set-top boxes, or digital video recorders (DVRs). In some complaints, subscribers claimed that they were billed despite specifically declining service or equipment upgrades offered by Comcast. In others, customers claimed that they had no knowledge of the unauthorized charges until they received unordered equipment in the mail, obtained notifications of unrequested account changes by email, or conducted a review of their monthly bills."
This being Comcast, the FCC notes that impacted customers had to spend "significant time and energy" removing the charges from their bills. After all, this is the company that routinely refuses to correct its own mistakes unless the practice in question gets significant media attention.

While not specifically mentioned in the FCC's announcement, Comcast also has a long, proud history of charging customers who own their own modem a $10 rental fee anyway. This has been a problem customers have faced for years, yet seems to never stop occurring no matter how many complaints or regulatory wrist slaps the cable giant receives. In this case, the FCC states the obvious:
"It is basic that a cable bill should include charges only for services and equipment ordered by the customer—nothing more and nothing less," said Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the Enforcement Bureau. "We expect all cable and phone companies to take responsibility for the accuracy of their bills and to ensure their customers have authorized any charges."
The problem of course is that Comcast likely made significantly more than $2.3 million on this scheme. And the FCC may also want to hold off on the celebration; while the FCC did give Comcast a wrist slap in this instance, there's also a long-standing practice of Comcast and other ISPs and cable companies using misleading below-the-line fees to jack up the advertised rate of both TV and broadband services. And then there's the ongoing issue of Comcast's expanding and anti-competitive usage caps and overage fees, which nobody at the FCC seems all too concerned about.

So while it's good the FCC is cracking down on this kind of fraud, it's just tap dancing around the opening of a very deep, dark rabbit hole of dysfunction, one that has long-since passed from minor inconvenience into legend.

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 5:38am

    Hit hard or don't bother

    The problem of course is that Comcast likely made significantly more than $2.3 million on this scheme.

    Until the fines at the very least equal the amount the company made from screwing over their customers the only message those fines send is 'Hosing over your customers is and will remain highly profitable, even if you get caught doing it.'

    Pathetic fines are quite possibly worse than no fines at all because they remove the uncertainty that might keep a company in check. If a company has to worry about a potentially devastating fine for crossing the line then they might restrain themselves from doing so blatantly, but when they know that the worst they will face is a laughable fine that might end up costing them 5-10% of what they gained then that restraint goes out the window as there's essentially no risk, but plenty of reward to act as incentive.

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

    • icon
      Jeremy Lyman (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 6:19am

      Re: Hit hard or don't bother

      Yes, another Comcast payment that's 1) a drop in the bucket on their bottom line and 2) less than the fraud brought in.

      Not only that, but this is again a SETTLEMENT to end the INVESTIGATION. Paying a token amount so no one finds out how bad/widespread/egregious the offense actually was. That, as much as bribery, should be illegal in itself.

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

      • icon
        Padpaw (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 7:33am

        Re: Re: Hit hard or don't bother

        It is illegal they just choose not to enforce it and look the other way.

        They are as dirty as comcast is.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 10:38am

        Re: Re: Hit hard or don't bother

        'Not only that, but this is again a SETTLEMENT to end the INVESTIGATION. Paying a token amount so no one finds out how bad/widespread/egregious the offense actually was. '

        Don't you wish that you could ever get a deal as sweet.

        Corporations are now more than people; heck, now we treat them better than people.

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

        • identicon
          SkullDuggery, 12 Oct 2016 @ 11:34am

          Re: Re: Re: Hit hard or don't bother

          You can blame the SCotUS and Congress for Government Alphabet organizations treating Corporations as "People".

          In fact, in light of the SCotUS decision, my guess is that "ONLY" corporations are considered people by all Government entities.

          Why, do you ask? Because there's nothing in any of the laws that specifically entitles "humans" or "homo-sapiens" to be classified as people.

          With only one legally binding decision granting corporations status as "people", none of us, as human beings, matter to the government anymore.

          The exception to that rule is of course the "alphabet" corporate officers that make up the top 1% of the top 1% of this country. What's really sad is that the corporations, as people, do not have to worry about things like, oh murdering their customers by releasing defective products.

          They get hit with a civil fine, less than a flea's bite to them, they can continue releasing deadly products with impunity.

          What should happen is that those Corporate officers, board members and majority stockholders, you know, the "humans" that make all the decisions, should all be held accountable for any and all laws broken.

          Defective product kills a human being, all of the identified "humans" inside the company get to spend life in prison.

          Evil Company #666 steals from millions, all of the identified "humans" inside the company get to pay out 10x or 100x what was stolen to the humans that were stolen from.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 6:33am

      Re: Hit hard or don't bother

      It's also worth considering that they don't have real competition in a lot of areas. So, it's not just the lack of financial punishment that provides no incentive to improve, it's that their customers can't go elsewhere even as they're proven to be screwing them over.

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

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 7:17am

      Re: Hit hard or don't bother

      Yeah, this is what I've been saying for a long time now. We need a law to address this specifically.

      Since laws all seem to need a catchy title, call this one "The Crime Does Not Pay Act:" Any business found guilty of violating the law in a way that increases revenue must face a mandatory minimum fine of 100% of the gross revenue received through their illegal dealings.

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

    • icon
      Allaun Silverfox (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 7:07pm

      Re: Hit hard or don't bother

      Tinfoil hat: It could be purposeful.By looking like they are doing something, they ease discontent. At the same time, they don't upset congress (or their donors) to much. In addition to getting a temporary cash infusion.

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

  • icon
    rebrad (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 6:16am

    As a major donor to the Clinton Foundation, Comcast was found innocent of any charges. Nothing to see here, move along.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 6:36am

      Re:

      Comcast has been screwing over their customers for fun and profits for years and facing only wrist-slaps. Nice attempt to spin it as politically motivated* rather than a government agency not being willing to hit a large company as badly as they need it though.

      *Funny thing if you want to go that route, historically Comcast generally donates fairly equally to both parties, and depending on whether you're looking at the PAC numbers or general they're either donating significantly or slightly more(35%/65% D/R, or 48%/52% D/R) to the republican candidates this time around, but like any company buying politicians they're 'smart' enough to spread the wealth around so they have 'employees' in office no matter who gets elected.

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

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 6:44am

        Re: Re:

        "a government agency not being willing to hit a large company as badly as they need it"

        The funny thing is, in my experience, the people whining about campaign/foundation contributions would also be the same people whining that a government agency correctly punished a private corporation for its wrongdoings.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 6:41am

      Re:

      "As a major donor to the Clinton Foundation"

      Do you have a citation for that? A quick Google returns a lot of right-wing conspiracy blogs/sites and those I recognise as being even remotely credible list the contribution as being in the $5-10k range. However, right-wing outlets Fox and NewsMax are listed as donating 5 or 6 figure sums. (example link: http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2015/05/clinton-foundation-donors-include-dozens-of-media-organi zations-individuals-207228)

      "Nothing to see here, move along."

      Not without a real basis to the claim, no.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 9:02am

      Re:

      It's not even that; it's that this is considered routine behavior in the oligopolies in the US.

      People are routinely charged and overcharged using faulty metrics and for services not rendered. The FCC should be the one stepping in for the rampant fraud that arguably is comparable tot he robosigning scandal five years ago.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 6:35am

    Knowing Comcast, they would just add some kind of fee to recover it anyway and blame the government. If there's not going to be competition, they need to be regulated just the the power company.

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

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 7:33am

      Re:

      Comcast will charge an administrative fee for the costs of ensuring that Comcast is not screwing you with unnecessary hardware fees.

      The new fee will be 25% higher than the previously charged unnecessary hardware fees you were paying.

      What about a fee for throttling? A fee for the monitoring and administration of bandwidth caps? And a fee to ensure privacy -- that is for Comcast to keep private the other ways it is screwing you that you don't yet know about.

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

  • identicon
    Cho, 12 Oct 2016 @ 7:05am

    Taxes and Fees

    I've long argued that the price a seller quotes should include all taxes and fees. Yet even the nation's largest retailer, Walmart, refuses to include taxes in the prices it puts on the shelf stickers, instead adding them on at checkout. Where's the FTC?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 7:39am

      Re: Taxes and Fees

      "below-the-line fees to jack up the advertised rate of both TV and broadband services".

      An all too common business practice. Almost no business includes taxes and fees in the advertised price.

      "It is basic that a cable bill should include charges only for services and equipment ordered by the customer—nothing more and nothing less," said Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the Enforcement Bureau."

      Right there he comes right out and says it! Cable bills should not include added-on taxes and fees.

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

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 8:35am

      Re: Taxes and Fees

      I only investigated this in one state, and that was a long time ago. The state frowned upon pricing that included taxes because it was 'difficult' (their description) for them to back out their share. They much preferred that the tax be added, and shown on the receipt because that was a whole number they could then take to the bank.

      At the time we thought it really lazy of them and we thought there were advantages for us, but shrugged and did it their way.

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

      • identicon
        Wendy Cockcroft, 14 Oct 2016 @ 6:08am

        Re: Re: Taxes and Fees

        In the UK the sticker price is the price you pay. I can't imagine the amount of mental mathematics you have to do over there to ensure your weekly shop comes in on budget.

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

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 14 Oct 2016 @ 6:37am

          Re: Re: Re: Taxes and Fees

          It's the same everywhere else I've visited apart from the US - the price advertised is the price you pay including taxes unless specifically stated otherwise (some wholesalers will price excluding VAT but that's normally because their clients are excluded/claim it back). No nasty surprises - if you have €1 in Spain and you buy something for 99c you have enough money. In the US, you don't have enough for the 99c item if you only have $1 on you.

          It's my theory that this is a major reason why some Americans are so fundamentally opposed to taxes to the point of demanding their quality of life be reduced in order to pay less. It causes them problems every day of their lives so they despise it, whereas Europeans tend to be more focused on how much value they get vs. the actual figure because it causes them zero problems (see also the way income taxes are filed by the majority).

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

  • identicon
    Tin-Foil-Hat, 12 Oct 2016 @ 7:20am

    Only one way to stop it

    Until you start putting CEOs in prison this kind of fraud will continue. A miniscule fine doesn't help either. It's the equivalent of not putting bank robbers in jail and allowing them to keep 95% of the stolen money.

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

  • icon
    PhalafelThighs (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 7:25am

    This behavior sounds very familiar

    It sounds like Comcast might have a problem similiar to the recent Wells Fargo's kerfluffel.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 12 Oct 2016 @ 7:39am

    New industry standard

    Comcraptastic

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 7:54am

    I"m not familiar with the law in this regard, but wouldn't this be grounds for a class action lawsuit?

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

  • icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 7:54am

    So they're fined slightly more for outright fraud than someone sharing two dozen songs on the internet. Yeah, that'll stop them.

    I'm lucky to have Google Fiber. $70 a month. No fees, no taxes, no add-ons, no hidden charges. Just straight up $70

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 8:10am

      Re:

      Same here.

      #GoogleFiberCoolKidsClub

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 6:21pm

      Re:

      It's why I, a Time Warner Customer (yes, they're pricey, but I've been generally ok otherwise with their service), was glad when the Comcast-TWC merger got killed.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2016 @ 6:44pm

      Re:

      Ummmm... Check your mailbox for a bill from Comcast. It'll have all of the below the line fees (including the Service Protection and modem rental) that you aren't paying to Google.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 8:48am

    Sounds like Wells Fargo: "Hey minimum wage slave CSR. Get me 12 attachments an hour or I'll fire you and get someone who will!"

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 9:42am

    Its shocking to see that once again the punishment is never anywhere near the level of the crime.

    Its not like consumers can go to a different provider...
    Its not like corporations will suddenly begin to behave fairly...
    Its not like watchdogs who could enforce the rules are allowed to have that power...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 9:47am

      Re:

      when you make millions on a scam and only get fined 1% of that profit , why on earth would you stop. its easy money, your customers cant jump ship and once you get caught, just think up another scam.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 2:11pm

      Re:

      Its shocking to see that once again the punishment is never anywhere near the level of the crime.

      No, no, no. You see, punishment isn't supposed to fit the crime, it's supposed to inversely fit the criminal. Big, rich criminal = little punishment. Little criminal = big punishment. Understand now?

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

  • icon
    clemahieu (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 12:19pm

    So, taxes?

    That's funny, this happens to me all the time it's called taxes.

    Why would I want the FCC to have more control?

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


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