The Federal Communications Commission has hit the parent company of NBC owned stations, Comcast Corporation, with the largest civil penalty ever given to a cable operator over consumer complaints.
The FCC says Comcast will have to pay a $2.3 million fine and implement a five-year compliance plan after the commission looked into complaints the cable giant was charging customers for services they didn’t ask for.
“In some complaints, subscribers claimed that they were billed despite specifically declining service or equipment upgrades offered by Comcast,” said the FCC. “In others, customers claimed that they had no knowledge of the unauthorized charges until they received unordered equipment in the mail, obtained notifications of unrequested account changes by email, or conducted a review of their monthly bills.”
“It is basic that a cable bill should include charges only for services and equipment ordered by the customer—nothing more and nothing less,” said Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the Enforcement Bureau. “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.”
“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,” said Comcast. “We agree those issues should be fixed and are pleased to put this behind us and proceed with these customer service-enhancing changes.”
Part of the settlement says Comcast has to figure out how to only charge customers for services they say they want and then send them an order confirmation separate from any other bill, “clearly and conspicuously describing newly added products and their associated charges,” says the FCC.
“Further, Comcast will offer to customers, at no cost, the ability to block the addition of new services or equipment to their accounts,” says the FCC. “In addition, the settlement requires Comcast to implement a detailed program for redressing disputed charges in a standardized and expedient fashion, and limits adverse action (such as referring an account to collections or suspending service) while a disputed charge is being investigated.”
“We have been working very hard on improving the experience of our customers in all respects and are laser-focused on this,” said Comcast. “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.”