Comcast Must Pay $33M To Settle Charges It Listed 75,000 Unlisted Phone Numbers

Nearly a year after the California Public Utilities Commission held a hearing to determine if Comcast should be held liable for a screwup that published more than 75,000 phone numbers, names, and addresses that were supposed to be unlisted, the cable and Internet giant has reached a $33 million deal that puts an end to the matter.

As part of the settlement announced on Thursday, Comcast will pay $25 million in penalties and investigation costs to the California Department of Justice and CPUC, as well as $8 million in restitution to customers whose information was improperly disclosed.

The settlement comes after a year-long investigation and three days of hearings, the CPUC reports.

“Our investigation revealed that many Comcast customers complained to Comcast that their names, addresses, and phone numbers were published, though they had paid for that information to be kept private,” CPUC commission Catherine J.K. Sandoval said in a statement. “It is imperative that customer complaints be quickly addressed and that systems are established to identify and correct the root cause of the problem and protect consumer privacy.”

According to a complaint [PDF] filed with the California AG’s Office, the problem arose after Comcast implemented a new process for producing and disseminating listing information for its residential phone customers in late 2009.

Under the system, Comcast sent non-published listings to a third-party company, while placing a “privacy flag” on the non-published listings. However, the flag was never attached to approximately 75,000 non-published/non-listed subscribers.

As a result, that information – for which customers paid between $1.25 and $1.50 per month to keep unlisted – appeared in certain county phone books for the years of 2010 and 2011.

The issue came to light in 2012, following a CBS Sacramento story about a Comcast customer who paid to have her information kept private, but whose number could be easily discovered by calling 4-1-1.

At the time, Comcast apologized and refunded her the fees, saying it was a rare occurrence. But then in early 2013, it revealed to the CPUC that, during a 27-month period starting in July 2010, it had goofed and allowed the 74,000 unlisted numbers to be shared with third-party phone directories.

Still, the company maintained that the issue with the CBS13 view was “not the same” as the one involved in the CPUC investigation.

Under the settlement, the $8 million in restitution will be provided to customers as follows:

• $100 credits (or checks to former customers) for each of the 74,774 affected customers ($7,477,400);
• $432,000 for home security and/or safety-related services for approximately 216 customers with specific and acute safety concerns related to the unauthorized disclosure; and,
• $517,714 in non-published fees collected from former customers whom Comcast had not previously been able to reach.

Additionally, the company has agreed to a permanent injunction that requires it strengthen restrictions placed on its vendors’ use of personal information about customers.