Court Okays $50M Comcast Settlement But Some Customers Won’t Even Get The $15 Bill Credit

Eleven months after Comcast reached a $50 million deal that would close the books on a class-action lawsuit originally filed back in 2003, the settlement has been approved by a federal court. However, because the window for filing a claim has already closed, a number of the affected 800,000 customers won’t get a bill credit; just two free months of The Movie Channel.

The lawsuit alleged that cable subscribers in the Philadelphia area had been the victims of Comcast’s anti-competitive actions in the region.

Comcast, which is headquartered here in Philly, came to dominate the market by acquiring smaller pay-TV providers in the area. The company would also swap franchises with other providers to consolidate its footprint.

The plaintiffs alleged that this sort of action allowed Comcast to “to acquire or maintain monopoly power, raise prices, engage in anticompetitive conduct, and limit choice for cable consumers to effectively the only game in town.”

The large class of plaintiffs — which had effectively been anyone who’d been a pay-TV subscriber in the region during this time — sought hundreds of millions in damages from Comcast.

Any hope of such a large settlement was shattered in 2013, when Comcast convinced the U.S. Supreme Court that this plaintiff class should not have been certified because its members were coming from different parts of the area that had been previously been served by various smaller cable companies. Comcast claimed this resulted in a group of plaintiffs whose potential damages varied too much to be considered a single class of plaintiff.

The lawsuit was allowed to move forward following the gutting by SCOTUS, but with a significantly narrower definition on the plaintiff class than it had previously. It was with this more focused collection of plaintiffs — which includes cable TV customers in Philadelphia and four surrounding counties who currently subscribe to Comcast or subscribed between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2008 — that Comcast made the $50 million deal in 2014.

Of that total, around $33 million is slated to go to current customers, who had a choice between a $15 bill credit, six free pay-per-view movies, four months of faster broadband, or two months of The Movie Channel.

Problem is, even though the settlement has just been approved now, the window for filing a claim closed in July. Current customers who didn’t file a claim will get the default offer of two months of The Movie Channel.

The settlement puts a price tag of $43.90 on those two months of the Showtime-operated, second-tier premium cable channel. But many pay-TV providers only charge around $12-15/month for TMC, and some will just throw it in with a Showtime subscription.

We’ve asked both Comcast and the plaintiffs’ attorneys why this is deemed an acceptable substitute for bill credit.

We’ve also asked the attorneys if their firms would be willing to receive their compensation (estimated at around $15 million) in the form of free movie channels. If we hear anything back from either Comcast or the lawyers, we will update.

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