Minnesota AG Just The Latest To Ding Comcast For Shady Fees

from the transparency! dept

How many lawsuits does it take to get Comcast to back off of shady fees designed to falsely inflate the company's advertised prices? Good question.

For several years now cable and broadband providers have been using hidden fees to covertly jack up their advertised rates. These fees, which utilize a rotating crop of bullshit names, help these companies falsely advertise one rate, then sock the consumer with a significantly higher-rate post sale (often when locked into a long-term contract). The practice also allows the company to falsely claim they're not raising rates on consumers. They omit that they're talking about the above-the-line rate being charged, implying that anything below the line (where real fees like taxes are levied) is outside of their control.

Back in 2014, Comcast introduced a new $1.50 per month surcharge it called its "Broadcast TV Fee." Said fee was really just a portion of the cost of doing business for Comcast (programming), busted out of the full bill and hidden below the line -- again to help the company falsely advertise a lower price. Over the last four years Comcast has quietly but quickly pushed this fee skyward, this week informing customers that -- alongside numerous other rate hikes like its "Regional Sports Network" fees -- the company's Broadcast TV fee would now be up to $10 per month for some cable TV customers.

While the federal government (FTC, FCC) routinely turned a blind eye to this practice (regardless of which party was in control), Comcast and other cable ops have been hit by a rotating crop of investigations and lawsuits for the practice. Just before Christmas, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson joined the festivities, announcing that her office had filed suit against Comcast for "charging customers more than it promised for cable television packages, charging for unordered equipment and services, and not delivering prepaid Visa cards promised in its promotions."

The AG's office is quick to point out that Comcast enjoys falsely telling complaining customers that the bogus fees it uses to covertly raise rates are the fault of the federal government:

"Comcast/Xfinity falsely told some consumers who questioned these extra fees that the fees were out of the company’s control. For example, it told one customer that “those fees are actually local fees and correspond to the FCC and we don’t manage those okay? Those aren’t up to Comcast.” It told another customer that “we have no control over the fees.” Comcast is not, however, required by any state or federal law to collect such fees, and does so simply to generate revenue.

When criticized, Comcast has routinely tried to claim that adding these sneaky fees then lying about what they're for is just the company's way of being "transparent" with its customers. Denial appears to be the company's response to these allegations as well, despite the fact the practice has now been well illustrated by countless settlements and lawsuits.

In the streaming video wars to come, Comcast could differentiate itself by being clear with customers about how much its services actually cost, using "zero hidden fees" as a marketing point of pride. This being Comcast, the company is likely to instead move in the opposite direction, and just double down on the practice of misleading and confusing its customers in its relentless quest to nickel and dime the lion's share of America.

Filed Under: broadcast tv fee, fake fees, false advertising, fcc, fees, ftc, lori swanson, minnesota
Companies: comcast


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  • identicon
    Iggy, 27 Dec 2018 @ 11:02am

    "How many lawsuits does it take to get Comcast to back off of shady fees designed to falsely inflate the company's advertised prices?"

    Take the average actual fee paid by subscribers
    Subtract the advertised fee
    Multiply this by the total number of subscribers
    Divide this by the average lawsuit payout

    The result will be the number of lawsuits required to stop false price advertising

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2018 @ 12:24pm

      Re:

      Nah the math is even easier than that. Comcast will just take the Minnesota AG's fee they have to pay, divide by the total number of subscriber's in Minnesota, then add that number + 20% onto their subscriber's bills as a "regulatory enforcement Fee".

      Everyone wins! The AG looks like they did something against Comcast. Comcast gets to massively profit off of the new fees. Nobody in the process actually cares about the subscribers that are harmed.

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

      • identicon
        Paul Brinker, 27 Dec 2018 @ 12:55pm

        Re: Re:

        I am fairly sure Comcast has already done this at some point in its history.

        The best way to see if something is working is if Comcrap has a drop in its stock price. The only way this will happen is if the AG gets a win so big that they cant pay dividends or will report an earnings adjustment. But if you look at their reporting they have already calculated fees to the government related to settlements and lawsuits.

        The ideal solution is forfeiture of 100% of the gains, plus a percentage of revenue. Other solutions you never see today is revocation of the corporate charter (IE forced Bankruptcy) or directly holding the CFO accountable since he is the last stop in a scam like this.

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

        • identicon
          Iggy, 27 Dec 2018 @ 2:13pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          The best was the breakup of Bell. It reduced the book value of AT&T by 70% but it made possible modems without acoustic couplers. The internet took off just a few years later.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 27 Dec 2018 @ 3:44pm

    Using a dictionary from Bizzaro land I take it?

    When criticized, Comcast has routinely tried to claim that adding these sneaky fees then lying about what they're for is just the company's way of being "transparent" with its customers.

    Ah yes, the famed 'transparency' wherein you advertise one amount that you know is lower than the actual amount and then, once a customer is signed up and in a position where they have to pay, you charge them another fee entirely.

    Truly, they are are transparent as the purest of glass... covered in several layers of black paint.

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

    • identicon
      Iggy, 27 Dec 2018 @ 7:45pm

      Re: Using a dictionary from Bizzaro land I take it?

      I think I remember a Pharma CEO arguing that jacking up the price of a drug 20 times improves access to medication

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2018 @ 11:30pm

        Re: Re: Using a dictionary from Bizzaro land I take it?

        You're thinking Martin Shkreli. It's a shame we can't send Comcast to join him.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2018 @ 6:35pm

    CON-COST

    FTFY

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

  • icon
    tom (profile), 28 Dec 2018 @ 3:45am

    When the fines are less then profits earned by bad practice, the bad practice will continue.

    They way to stop this is to file charges against the Chief Officers of Comcast + the Board of Directors. For each bill Comcast sent out containing a charge that Comcast mislead consumers about - One charge of fraud + one charge of conspiracy to commit fraud. After a few hundred thousand charges, the fines and time in jail start to add up to something that will serve as an example for other corporate leaders.

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


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