Comcast is being sued by a state attorney general for selling “near-worthless” service plans

This doesn’t bode well for Comcast’s bid to improve its image.
This doesn’t bode well for Comcast’s bid to improve its image.
Image: Reuters/Robert Galbraith
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The Washington State attorney general is cracking down on Comcast for allegedly peddling a “near-worthless” service plan that cost area customers at least $73 million over the last five years.

Attorney general Bob Ferguson filed a $100 million consumer-protection lawsuit against the cable-and-internet provider on Monday (Aug. 1) over a deceptive service plan, his office said in a statement. The Service Protection Plan, which currently costs $4.99 a month, according to the lawsuit, is meant to cover “standard maintenance” of Xfinity TV, internet, and voice services, as described on the company’s website. But the lawsuit alleges that Comcast’s sales practices misled customers into thinking that the plan covered things it did not, like repairs involving wiring inside a wall.

According to the suit, filed in Washington’s King County Superior Court, Comcast’s website through mid-June 2016 said the plan “eliminate[s] any concerns about being charged additional fees for service calls related to ‘inside wiring, [and] cover[s] all chargeable service calls for your Xfinity services without additional service fees.'” And it ”did not identify or allude to any limitations,” the document said.

Comcast representatives were also instructed to tell customers that the plan covered service calls related to inside wiring, even though it did not, a sales script obtained by the attorney general’s office showed. And customers prompted by the attorney general’s office as part of the investigation to contact Comcast about the service plan were falsely told 75% of the time that it covered all inside wiring, the office said.

In reality, service calls related to wiring inside of the walls of a residence were not covered by the plan, as the plan’s terms and conditions detail.

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

Between October 2013 and September 2015, roughly 2,000 Comcast Service Protection Plan subscribers were allegedly charged additional fees for service calls that the company had previously said were covered. Others also had to pay for their own repairs because they weren’t covered by the plan, the lawsuit said.

Meanwhile, Comcast said in a statement that the service plan “completely” covered over 99% of repair calls from Washington customers who purchased it.

The company, which is practically synonymous with bad customer service, has been trying to revive its reputation over the past year—rolling out new tools to make service calls less painful, and trying to adopt more consumer-friendly policies.

It said it previously worked with the attorney general’s office to clear up the concerns detailed in the lawsuit, and that it was “surprised and disappointed” that the office pursued litigation.

A spokesman for the Washington attorney general’s office said, in turn, that ”Comcast did make some changes for the better.” (Comcast’s website prominently stated on August 1 that the plan excluded “wires concealed within calls requiring wall fishing,” among other things.)

But the office filed the suit anyway because “we do not believe Comcast was prepared to offer sufficient restitution to Washington consumers who were harmed by the company’s misleading and deceptive practices.”

The lawsuit also accuses Comcast of charging customers who did not subscribe to the service plan for service calls that should have been free, and for performing improper credit checks on certain customers.