FCC fines Comcast $2.3m over "negative billing option" charges
12 October 2016 | James Pearce
The Federal Communications Commission has hit Comcast with a $2.3 million fine for charging customers for services and equipment they never actually ordered.
Following an investigation, the FCC found that the cable giant consistently and routinely charged cable TV customers for services they’d never authorised, including premium channels, set-top boxes and digital video recorders.
The practice, which is known as “negative option billing” is illegal under federal law.
The regulator said that many of the complaints it received were from users who were billed for these services despite the fact they had explicitly turned them down.
Other users complained they would receive hardware in the mail they never ordered, or discovered charges only when they appeared on their bills. The FCC also noted that customers found it difficult to get refunds for the errant charges.
"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."
The FCC said under the terms of the settlement, Comcast will pay “the largest civil penalty assessed from a cable operator by the FCC” and has agreed to implement a five-year compliance plan.
A Comcast spokesperson said in a statement: “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.”
“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. We agree those issues should be fixed and are pleased to put this behind us and proceed with these customer service-enhancing changes.”