Comcast to pay $2.3 million fine to FCC for billing practices

CEO of Comcast Corporation Brian L. Roberts (L) particiaptes in a panel discussion before a House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on February 25, 2010. Comcast agreed to the largest civil fine ever levied on a cable company by the FCC. UPI/Mike Theiler

WASHINGTON, Oct. 13 (UPI) — Comcast Corp. will pay the largest civil penalty levied against a cable operator in the history of the Federal Communications Commission for wrongfully charging customers for services, the agency announced Tuesday.

The FCC and Comcast agreed the company will pay a $2.3 million fine to settle an investigation in to accusations it charged customers for services and equipment they did not ask for, and the company will be required to adopt new methods of making sure customers want the services they receive.

The agency received complaints from customers that Comcast had added charges to their bills for unordered services such as channels, set-top boxes or digital video recorders, with some alleging they had specifically declined the services they were later charged for.

The practice, known as negative option billing, places billing burdens on customers, who have to contact a company to dispute charges and obtain refunds. Among telecommunications carriers, the practice — referred to as cramming — is also illegal.

“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 press release. “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.”

In addition to the fine, Comcast will be required to implement a five-year compliance plan designed to obtain affirmative informed consent before adding services or equipment to customer bills. The company also will be required to send customers a confirmation separate from any other bill clearly explaining new products and charges on an account.

For its part, Comcast said many requirements in the compliance plan already have been underway as part of their effort to improve service and relationships with customers. Although the company is on the same page as the FCC with regard to customer service changes, they object how the agency characterized the complaints and the investigation into the allegations.

“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,” Comcast said in a press release.

“We agree those issues should be fixed and are pleased to put this behind us and proceed with these customer service-enhancing changes.”


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