The agency said that it was responding to complaints that Comcast added charges to their bills for such things as as premium channels, set-top boxes and digital video recorders.
The FCC said that the fine was the largest civil penalty it had assessed to a cable operator.
“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 calls such practices “negative option billing.” FCC rules prohibit a cable provider from charging for services txt the customers did not affirmatively request.
In some complaints, the FCC said, subscribers claimed that they were billed despite specifically declining service or equipment upgrades offered by Comcast.
In addition to the fine, the FCC will “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 order confirmations separate from any other bill that “clearly and conspicuously describes newly added products and their associated charges.”
Customers also will give customers the ability to block the addition of new services to their accounts.
Capitol Hall lawmakers held a hearing in June on cable and satellite customer service. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) recounted her own effort to remove a fee from her pay-TV provider. The provider was unidentified, but she recorded the conversation and posted it to her website.
A Comcast spokeswoman said in a statement, “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.”
The spokeswoman added, “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.”