Comcast Fights Back Against Washington State’s Potential $3.6B Deceptive Service Plan Lawsuit

Image courtesy of Mr.TinDC

In August, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson slammed Comcast with a potentially massive lawsuit, accusing the cable/internet giant of violating state consumer protection laws nearly two million times by using allegedly deceptive marketing for its Service Protection Plans. Now, Comcast is firing back at Ferguson, claiming the state’s complaint is “premised on a profound mischaracterization of Comcast’s actual business practices.”

“The complaint consistently ignores the evidence the Attorney General gathered during a multi-year investigation, repeatedly misstates the true facts, and – most pertinent to this motion – fails to identify any unfair or deceptive conduct even on the facts as alleged,” reads a motion to dismiss [PDF] filed Friday afternoon in a King County, WA, court.

Comcast markets the Service Protection Plan (SPP) as a “worry-free” way for customers to pay a not-huge monthly fee ($4.99) to avoid paying larger amounts later for service calls if/when there is a problem with their Comcast connection.

The state claimed that the actual restrictions on SPP mean that very few customers actually enjoy the benefit of the program, and that even though the plan covers the cost of a Comcast tech visit, it does not cover “any actual repairs relating to customer equipment.”

Ferguson had also alleged that Comcast is misleading customers about the need for the plan, telling them that it covers service visits for equipment and issues outside of the home. Thing is, noted the original complaint, Comcast customers are already exempted from having to pay for those types of visits without having to sign up for a protection plan.

In response, Comcast argues that Ferguson is effectively saying that the company misled customers by not explaining all of the terms and conditions of the SPP contract, even though those terms “were posted for all to see on Comcast’s website.”

We put that statement to the test, and went to The SPP terms and conditions are not explicitly included in this long list of standard customer agreements, and we could not find them by hunting around the site. A Google search for “Comcast service protection plans terms and conditions” did lead to this support article that includes the agreement, but is that as readily available as Comcast implies?

A rep for Comcast HQ confirmed to Consumerist that his support article appears to be the only place on the company’s site where the SPP terms and conditions reside.

Later in the motion, Comcast states that these terms are “all of three paragraphs long,” but by our count — not including the text intro to the support article — we see eight or nine paragraphs (depending on whether you consider all of the bullet points a single paragraph or two). It’s perhaps a nitpicky point, but if you’re going to claim that your terms are concise and clear, at least don’t fudge with the paragraph count.

The Washington lawsuit also accused Comcast employees of using special codes that would add service charges to customers’ bills even though they were covered by the Customer Guarantee that all Comcast users are supposed to benefit from.

“This code recognized that the service call was covered by the Customer Guarantee but charged the consumer anyway,” read the complaint.

Additionally, Ferguson accused Comcast of requiring a deposit from thousands of customers in Washington even though those people were creditworthy enough to avoid the deposit requirements.

Comcast’s response to both of these allegations is that if they happened, they were minor errors affecting small numbers of customers — and not worthy of a lawsuit from the state attorney general.

“The complaint does not cite a single instance in which any Comcast customer was actually charged for a service call properly covered by the Guarantee,” reads the Comcast filing, which puts a potential $3.6 billion price tag on the lawsuit. “Instead, the Attorney General speculates that, in some tiny percentage of service calls, service technicians might be misapplying chargeable ‘fix codes’ to service calls that should be covered by the Guarantee. Human error of this type, even if it occurs, is not an unfair and deceptive trade practice.”

With regard to the errant deposits, Comcast writes: “Even assuming that a small number of deposits were collected contrary to Comcast company policy, this does not amount to an unfair or deceptive trade practice.”

Comcast has a lot on the line with this motion to dismiss. We know of at least two other attorneys general who are watching the Washington lawsuit to see if they could file similar actions against the company. A victory by Comcast at this stage could dissuade others from moving forward with litigation, but if the court allows Ferguson’s case to continue, we could see additional states making similar claims.

[via GeekWire]

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