from the sleazy-surcharges dept
As we’ve well discussed, the broadband and TV sector not only has some of the worst satisfaction scores in modern history. A lack of real competition has long allowed the industry to double down on all manner of bad behavior, whether that’s net neutrality and privacy violations, or just unprecedentedly-awful customer service. But in recent years the industry has developed another nasty habit: billing fraud involving everything from falsely signing customers up for services they never ordered to entirely bogus fees designed to let companies falsely advertise lower rates.
T-Mobile was accused last year of signing users up for services they neither wanted nor ordered. Centurylink has similarly found itself in hot water for the same thing on a larger scale, the company now facing lawsuits in more than a dozen states for the practice. Washington State also recently sued Comcast, noting that the company not only routinely signs its customers up for a “Service Protection Plan” they never ordered, but consistently misrepresents what the plan actually does. You may or may not notice a pattern here.
Now Cox Communications, the nation’s third-largest cable provider, is being accused of the same thing. A company whistleblower has accused company employees of repeatedly… you guessed it… fraudulently signing customers up for services they never ordered to nab bonuses they didn’t actually earn:
Speaking only to the I-Team, two whistleblowers are convinced some Cox Communications sales reps in Northern Virginia are cashing in by signing up customers for services they didn’t authorize. Why? To reach monthly bonuses of $12,000 or more.
“How far they’re going for a commission payout, to affect thousands of people, it’s a heinous, greedy act,” said former Cox Communications employee Anna Wilkinson.
Wilkinson, a former sales rep, claims to have notified her bosses at Cox but says nothing changed.
That last bit, where the employee informs management and nothing changes, is par for the course in such stories. In the CenturyLink example above, a whistleblower states she brought the fraudulent behavior to company leadership and was promptly fired for it. The company then launched an investigation into itself and found, miraculously, that it had done absolutely nothing wrong. Lawsuits in numerous states, however, continue.
Also a recurring theme: complaints are routinely made to the FTC but pretty rarely result in action, especially if the company in question is a larger, deeper-pocketed or politically-powerful potential litigant. That is, you’ll recall, the same FTC that’s supposed to protect us all from net neutrality violations in the wake of the neutering of federal net neutrality law and FCC authority over such companies by the Trump administration.
Of course ripping off customers via erroneous subscriptions to never-ordered services is just part of the problem. The TV and telecom sector also has a nasty habit of imposing all manner of bogus fees to customer bills. Fees that are completely made up and buried below the line for one misleading purpose: to falsely advertise a lower rate at the point of sale, then jack up your monthly bill once you’ve already had services installed. And again, you’d be pretty hard pressed to find a regulator or lawmaker from either party willing to do much about it.
On the TV side of the equation, this is likely only to result in greater cord cutting as users flock to cheaper, less dysfunctional streaming competitors. But given the rise of regulatory capture and waning competition in the broadband sector, it’s a problem that’s pretty clearly not going away anytime soon.