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State announces $100 million lawsuit against Comcast over alleged deceptive practices

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SEATTLE -- Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is announcing a $100 million lawsuit against Comcast, accusing the cable company of deceptive practices and seeking refunds for consumers.

The lawsuit claims Comcast violated Washington's Consumer Protection Act 1.8 million separate times, impacting nearly 500,000 customers in Washington state.

“This case is a classic example of a big corporation deceiving its customers for financial gain,” Ferguson said. “I won’t allow Comcast to continue to put profits above customers — and the law.”

The lawsuit accuses Comcast of violating Washington consumers in three main areas.

First: The state is seeking refunds for customers who paid for Comcast's Service Protection Plan, claiming Comcast did not disclose the plan's "significant limitations."

"The AGO lawsuit accuses Comcast of misleading 500,000 Washington consumers and deceiving them into paying at least $73 million in subscription fees over the last five years for a near-worthless “protection plan” without disclosing its significant limitations. Customers who sign up for Comcast’s Service Protection Plan pay a $4.99 monthly fee ostensibly to avoid being charged if a Comcast technician visits their home to fix an issue covered by the plan.

Comcast routinely claimed that the “comprehensive” plan covered the cost of all service calls, including those related to inside wiring, customer-owned equipment connected to Comcast services and on-site education about products," said Ferguson. "However, Comcast did not appropriately disclose that the plan does not cover repairs to any “wall-fished” wiring — wiring inside a wall — which constitutes the vast majority of wiring inside homes."

Second: The lawsuit alleges Comcast did not live up to its Customer Guarantee by charging consumers improper service fees.

"Comcast deceives consumers through the Customer Guarantee it makes to all 1.2 million Washington customers. Comcast’s Customer Guarantee promises: “We won’t charge you for a service visit that results from a Comcast equipment or network problem.” Comcast discloses no limitations on this guarantee.

Contrary to this promise, Comcast charged thousands of Washington customers for service calls that resulted from a Comcast equipment or network problem, including issues with Comcast HDMI and component cables, Comcast cable cards, and the installation of drop amplifiers, which fix Comcast signal problems.

In addition, until approximately June 2015, Comcast provided its technicians with a service call fix code that expressly allowed them “to add service charges to a normally not charged fix code.” In other words, the company created a code for technicians to add charges to a service call that should be provided at no cost."

Third: The Attorney General's Office says they uncovered thousands of instances of improper credit screening.

"Comcast requires a deposit for equipment, but that deposit can be waived if a credit check reveals a high credit score.

On more than 6,000 occasions, however, Washington state consumers paid a deposit to Comcast, despite credit checks performed by the company revealing the customers had high credit scores. This indicates that the either: (a) customers paid the deposit to avoid a credit check appearing on their credit report, only to have Comcast run one anyway; or (b) customers were forced to pay the deposit despite their high credit score, contrary to Comcast’s policy."

Comcast says it's "surprised and disappointed" that Washington state is suing it for $100 million after alleging the cable and internet giant deceived customers.

Beth Hester, Vice President of External Affairs for Comcast in Washington, released the following statement on Monday: “The Service Protection Plan has given those Washington consumers who chose to purchase it great value by completely covering over 99% of their repair calls. We worked with the Attorney General’s office to address every issue they raised, and we made several improvements based on their input. Given that we were committed to continue working collaboratively with the Attorney General’s office, we’re surprised and disappointed that they have instead chosen litigation. We stand behind our products and services and will vigorously defend ourselves.”

The Attorney General's Office is seeking:

  • More than $73 million in restitution to pay back Service Protection Plan subscriber payments;
  • Full restitution for all service calls that applied an improper resolution code, estimated to be at least $1 million;
  • Removing improper credit checks from the credit reports of more than 6,000 customers;
  • Up to $2,000 per violation of the Consumer Protection Act; and
  • Broad injunctive relief, including requiring Comcast to clearly disclose the limitations of its Service Protection Plan in advertising and through its representatives, correct improper service codes that should not be chargeable and implement a compliance procedure for improper customer credit checks.
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