Federal regulators are fining cable giant Comcast $2.3 million after thousands of consumers claim they were billed for services they never ordered.
Comcast allegedly charged customers for premium channels, cable boxes and DVRs, among other things, after many expressly told company representatives that they didn't want the add-ons, reports CNN Money.
The Federal Communications Commission launched an investigation in response complaints that Comcast was engaging in an illegal billing practice known as "negative option billing" or "cramming." Cramming has been prohibited for more than 20 years, according to the settlement reached on Oct. 11.
In addition to overcharging, complaints against Comcast include allegations the company made it too difficult for customers to get back money they mistakenly paid. For example, the FCC settlement includes a complaint from a customer in Colorado who spent "close to 15 hours on the phone with Comcast and ... close to five hours in person." He was trying to get a refund for a cable box he never requested after 18 months of being billed for it. He was told that "it would be looked into," but "their computers only go back six months."
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Customers also frequently reported that when they asked to speak to a supervisor, service reps refused. A Florida customer alleges she was told that all supervisors were unavailable, and that she couldn't be transferred because the representative's transfer button was broken. "I insisted on staying on the line," she said, "and the representative told me that he was going to hang up on me."
Comcast's settlement with the FCC requires the company to implement a "compliance plan," to address service issues like the ones filed in the complaint. The plan includes safeguards in sales processes to ensure customers have given consent before they are charged for new products, and requires that customers seeking refunds can get them in a "timely" manner.
The compliance plan requires Comcast to provide annual training on affirmative consent until July 2022. Employees who consistently over-bill customers "to a materially disproportionate extent compared to statistical expectations" must be re-trained.
Comcast said in a statement that it's "telling" that the FCC only found "isolated incidents" instead of "intentional wrongdoing," CNET reports. It conceded that "our customer service should have been better ... 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."
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While the Comcast disagrees with the "legal theory" involved in the FCC's ruling, it says it is "pleased to put this behind us." Comcast agreed to the settlement but did not admit guilt.