Comcast Unable To Shut Down Lawsuit Over “Deceptive” Service Protection Plans & Fees

Image courtesy of Matthew Keys

In August, Washington state sued Comcast, alleging that the cable giant had deceived hundreds of thousands of customers in the state about an add-on service intended to cover the cost of service calls. Comcast later sought to have the case dismissed, calling it a “profound mischaracterization” of the company’s business practices, but the court recently allowed the matter to move forward over Comcast’s objections.

In a one-page ruling [PDF] issued just as everyone was heading out for the long weekend, a King County (WA) Superior Court judge denied Comcast’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

“The court correctly rejected Comcast’s attempt to evade responsibility for deceiving its customers,” said Ferguson in an emailed statement. “Washington consumers deserve their day in court.”

Comcast maintains that Ferguson’s office has failed to “demonstrate violations of the Washington Consumer Protection Act, and in fact acknowledges that our customers have saved millions of dollars in avoided service charges with our Service Protection Plan. We continue to believe the Attorney General’s claims have no basis in either law or fact.”

At the core of this case is Comcast’s Service Protection Plan (SPP), which the company markets as a “worry-free” way for customers to avoid paying for expensive service calls by instead paying a monthly fee of around $5.

The state claims SPP’s terms and conditions are overly restrictive, resulting in very few customers actually being able to enjoy the benefits of the program — noting 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 also alleged that Comcast misled customers about the need for SPP, telling them that the plan covers service visits for equipment and issues outside of the home — when Comcast customers are already exempted from having to pay for those types of visits without having to sign up for a protection plan.

Comcast responded that these restrictions are all in the terms and conditions of the SPP contract, which “were posted for all to see on Comcast’s website.”

However, as we noted in October, the SPP terms and conditions were not included in this Comcast website page of terms for its various other offerings, and the only way to locate the SPP terms was to do a keyword search for them.

Additionally, Comcast stated in court documents that the SPP terms were “all of three paragraphs long,” but we counted at least eight paragraphs.

Washington also accused Comcast of wrongfully requiring a deposit from thousands of customers in the state who were creditworthy enough to avoid the deposit requirements.

Comcast contends that if such mistakes happened, they were minor errors affecting small numbers of customers — and not worthy of a lawsuit from the state attorney general.

The Service Protection Plan was not only sold in Washington, and Comcast appears to have used the same marketing for the SPP in all of the areas in which it operates. Now that Washington’s lawsuit against Comcast has been given the green light, it’s possible that other states could bring their own actions.

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