Crossed Wires

A lawsuit accusing Comcast of deceiving Washington customers will move forward after surviving its first court battle

click to enlarge Bob Ferguson is taking on the cable guys.
Bob Ferguson is taking on the cable guys.

If you've ever thought that Comcast was taking more money from your pocket than it should, or that it tricks customers for the sake of profit, then Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is right there with you.

Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Comcast, the nation's largest cable TV and home internet provider, in August, saying that some of Comcast's practices are a "classic example of a big corporation deceiving its customers for financial gain." He accused Comcast of more than 1.8 million violations of Washington state's Consumer Protection Act.

In a case that could have broad implications for the corporation nationally, Comcast was dealt its first blow on Dec. 16, when a judge dismissed Comcast's motion to dismiss the lawsuit entirely.

"The court correctly rejected Comcast's attempt to evade responsibility for deceiving its customers," Ferguson says in a statement. "Washington consumers deserve their day in court."

The lawsuit centers around Comcast's Service Protection Plan, a nationwide program. The plan, costing $5 a month, is marketed as a product that lets customers avoid service call fees when there's a problem with the service. Until June, the plan claimed it was "comprehensive" and "covers all chargeable service calls," according to the lawsuit. But in fact, it did not cover repairs to customer equipment or most wiring issues.

The suit claims that 500,000 Washington customers subscribed to this plan in the past five years and paid Comcast a sum of at least $73 million. Comcast, according to the lawsuit, did not provide terms and conditions of the plan to customers, and instead only had those terms and conditions on its website for customers to find themselves.

Those without a protection plan also may have been tricked, the lawsuit says. The company's customer guarantee promised not to charge for service visits that result in an equipment or network problem, but Ferguson's office says that thousands of Comcast's Washington customers were charged for such calls.

Finally, the AG's office says it uncovered thousands of instances where Comcast performed a credit check on customers when it shouldn't have, potentially impacting the customer's credit.

Comcast urged a King County Superior Court judge to dismiss the lawsuit in October, contending that there were no unfair or deceptive trade practices, and instead chalking some issues up to possible human error. Comcast suggested that customers on the Service Protection Plan could have looked up the terms and conditions on their own.

"In his prosecutorial zeal, the Attorney General gives his constituents far too little credit," Comcast argued.

The corporation added that the complaint offered "little more than speculation and hypothetical billing errors that the Attorney General does not allege have actually occurred," and even if they did, would amount to "isolated breaches of contract, not unfair or deceptive practices."

But Judge Timothy Bradshaw denied Comcast's motion to dismiss the suit, and the trial is currently set to begin July 31, 2017. ♦