FCC Fines Comcast After It Charges Customers For Services They Didn’t Order

David Lieberman
Deadline

Comcast agreed to pay the largest civil penalty the FCC has assessed a cable operator to resolve an agency investigation into charges for services and equipment that consumers did not request.

The cable giant will pay a $2.3 million fine, and implement a five-year plan to end what the FCC says was “negative option billing.” That put the burden on subscribers to complain when Comcast charged them for premium channels, set-top boxes, or digital video recorders that they didn’t order.

It’s “basic that a cable bill should include charges only for services and equipment ordered by the customer — nothing more and nothing less,” FCC Enforcement Bureau chief Travis LeBlanc says. “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.”

Comcast says that these were mistakes, not a company policy — and it does “not agree with the Bureau’s legal theory here.”

The FCC found “isolated errors or customer confusion” that Comcast agrees “should be fixed.”

Customer service “should have been better and our bills clearer” and 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.”

As part of its compliance plan, Comcast agreed to obtain customers’ consent before charging them for new services or equipment — and send an order confirmation separate from the monthly bill.

The company must develop a “detailed program for redressing disputed charges in a standardized and expedient fashion,” the FCC says. It also can’t suspend service or refer an account to a collections agency while a disputed charge is  under investigation.

The agency says it began its investigation after receiving “numerous complaints” charging that Comcast required them to pay for services or products that they didn’t order — and in some cases even after they declined the offers.

Several added that they devoted “significant time and energy to attempt to remove the unauthorized charges from their bills and obtain refunds.”

While the $2.3 million fine is a record for a cable company, it pales next to some of the penalties the FCC sought from some phone companies. For example, Verizon paid $90 million, Sprint paid $68 million, and T-Mobile paid $90 million to settle investigations into mobile “cramming” (billing for unauthorized subscriptions). And last year regulators sought $100 million from AT&T after charging that it misled customers about “unlimited” data service.

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