Comcast Broke The Law 445,000 Times And Inflated Bills, Must Pay $9.1 Million Judge Says

Some of you reading this may not find it shocking that Comcast is being fined millions of dollars for running afoul of consumer protections. Comcast is a major ISP, after all, and there are no shortages of customer complaints to be found on the web. But would you be surprised to learn that it broke the law hundreds of thousands of times?

That's the finding of a King County Superior Court judge, who ruled that Comcast violated the Consumer Protection Act more than 445,000 times by charging tens of thousands of Washington residents an extra fee for its Service Protection Plan without their consent, according to Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

"Comcast refused to accept responsibility for its egregious conduct that resulted in Washingtonians losing money every month for a product they did not want or request," Ferguson said. "Instead of making things right for Washingtonians, Comcast sent an army of corporate lawyers into court to try to avoid accountability."

Though Ferguson's legal team did in fact win (barring an appeal), the $9.1 million fine is far less than the $171 million original sought, an amount that was split almost evenly between restitution for consumers and penalties.

Even so, the $9.1 million fine is the largest trial award in a state Consumer Protection case. In addition, that figure does not include restitution, which apparently is still being decided on. Previously, the largest penalty of this kind was $4.3 million.

The judge in the case found that Comcast added its protection plan to nearly 31,000 consumer accounts without their knowledge, and failed to tell an additional 18,660 consumers of the true cost of the plan. This practice, known as "slamming," was revealed to the judge's satisfaction in customer call recordings and internal documents.

From July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2016, more than a third of enrollees were signed up for the protection plan without their consent, the judge found. In total, Comcast raked in $85 million in gross revenue from Washington alone between 2011 and mid-2016, from charges for the protection plan.

"My legal team demonstrated that we’re capable of meeting the world’s largest corporations in court – and winning. Part of my job is keeping giant corporations honest. Big or small, every business must play by the rules," Ferguson added.

Update 6/7/19

After posting this article, Comcast reached out HotHardware with a comment, pointing out that the judge ruled in its favor on several points, and that it has taken strides to improve its customers service.

“We’re pleased that the Court ruled in our favor on several of the Attorney General’s key claims and awarded less than 5 percent of what he was seeking in damages. The Judge recognized that any issues he did find have since been fully addressed by Comcast through the significant investments we have made in improving the customer experience and consent process, and that throughout Comcast acted in good faith. We will continue to make significant investments in how we serve our customers because it is the right thing to do and are fully committed to our customers in Washington state," Comcast said.

It should be noted that Comcast went on a hiring spree around this time in 2015, specifically to improve it customer service. In April 2017, Comcast admitted it still had "a lot of work to do," but said it was "happy with the progress" it made. At the time, Comcast said the number of customer service calls it had fielded fell by 22 million from the previous year.

Thumbnail/Top Image Source: Mike Mozart via Flickr