Comcast Fined $2.3 Million for “Unnecessary” Customer Charges

After reviewing complaints from subscribers who were billed for services they didn't request, the FCC levied its largest-ever fine against a cable operator.



The Federal Communications Commission has fined Comcast $2.3 million, claiming the company charged customers for goods and services they had never ordered.

It’s the largest fine ever levied against a cable operator, and it comes with a “compliance plan” that Comcast will have to follow over the next five years to ensure that similar missteps are not repeated.

“It is basic that a cable bill should include charges only for services and equipment ordered by the customer – nothing more and nothing less,” Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, said in a statement. “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 reviewed more than 1,000 complaints from customers, who in many cases had been billed for services they didn’t know they were getting or had even asked not to receive, a practice known as “negative option billing.” Those who attempted to remove the charges and services — such as premium channels, set-top boxes, or digital video recorders — often had to spend “significant time and energy” to do so, according to a statement released by the FCC.

The five-year compliance plan will ensure not only that customers can more easily block the addition of unwanted services, but that they’re notified every time a service or charge is added to the bill.

Comcast, which agreed to pay the fine, issued a statement yesterday:

We have been working very hard on improving the experience of our customers in all respects and are laser-focused on this. We acknowledge that, in the past, our customer service should have been better and our bills clearer, and that customers have at times been unnecessarily frustrated or confused. That’s why we had already put in place many improvements to do better for our customers even before the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau started this investigation almost two years ago. The changes the Bureau asked us to make were in most cases changes we had already committed to make, and many were already well underway or in our work plan to implement in the near future.

We do not agree with the Bureau’s legal theory here, and in our view, after two years, it is telling that it found no problematic policy or intentional wrongdoing, but just isolated errors or customer confusion. We agree those issues should be fixed and are pleased to put this behind us and proceed with these customer service-enhancing changes.

This summer, Washington state filed a $100 million lawsuit against the Philly-based cable giant. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson claimed that Comcast illegally deceived more than 500,000 customers into paying the company tens of millions of dollars by misrepresenting its Service Protection Plan and charging customers unnecessary fees for credit-screening practices and service calls. The lawsuit prompted a review from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office.

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