Comcast Pays FCC $2.3M To Settle Wrongful Charges

By on Oct, 11 2016 with Comments 2

WASHINGTON, DC — Comcast is paying the price for being accused for wrongfully charging consumers for services and equipment they never authorized.

In an announcement Tuesday, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau confirmed that the MSO will fork over $2.3 million to settle an investigation into the claims by cable TV customers that they were being unknowingly billed for things they did not request.

It is the largest civil penalty ever assessed to a cable TV operator by the FCC.

The Communications Act and the FCC’s rules prohibit a cable provider from charging its subscribers for services or equipment they did not affirmatively request, a practice known as “negative option billing.”

Also prohibited under the Act and the Commission’s rules is a similar practice by telecommunications carriers when unauthorized charges are placed on customers’ phone bills, an abuse known as “cramming.”

“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 FCC’s 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 FCC says it 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.

Consumers described expending significant time and energy to attempt to remove the unauthorized charges from their bills and obtain refunds.

In response to these complaints, the FCC undertook an investigation of the company.

Under the terms of the settlement, Comcast will implement a five-year compliance plan and “adopt processes and procedures designed to obtain affirmative informed consent from customers prior to charging them for any new services or equipment.”

Comcast will also send customers an order confirmation separate from any other bill, “clearly and conspicuously,” describing newly added products and their associated charges.

Further, Comcast will offer to customers, at no cost, the ability to block the addition of new services or equipment to their accounts.

The settlement also requires Comcast to implement a detailed program for redressing disputed charges in a standardized and expedient fashion, and limits adverse action (such as referring an account to collections or suspending service) while a disputed charge is being investigated.

 

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  1. There is no doubt in my mind that Comcast is guilty as sin of the allegations, as my fiancé and I are victims of exactly such conduct. I probably spent about 30-45 minutes on the phone to get the unauthorized services removed, and still have to spend more time to now try to get a refund or credit for the amounts we were charged, as that is a different “department” from the one that you talk to for removal of the unwanted and not-ordered service. Who knows how many other people are victims of this Comcast scam nationwide, or how long it has gone on, but in my view the “voluntary contribution” of the consent decree is far too small. How much did Comcast profit from this conduct over the years? That should serve as a starting point for the “voluntary” payment which should then go up as a penalty for its conduct. No way to know if the consent decree represents that kind of assessment, but I doubt it.

  2. Scott Gilbert Says:

    2.3 million dollar fine. That’s probably one day’s take of this particular offence, if that. Oh yeah, that’ll teach ’em. (That they can do what they want until they get caught, and then get a slap on the fingertip.) Oh, I forgot, the marketplace will take care of itself….