Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson presented more evidence Thursday in the state's lawsuit against Comcast, claiming the cable and internet giant conducted even more deceptive billing practices than previously alleged.
Ferguson filed a lawsuit in 2016 against Comcast for $100 million, saying the cable and Internet provider misled consumers about the scope of its service protection plan, charged fees for services that were supposed to be free, and conducted improper credit checks. The suit says Comcast misrepresented the scope of its Service Protection Plan (SPP) as part of more than 1.8 million violations of Washington's Consumer Protection Act (CPA).
Comcast's Service Protection Plan costs $4.99 per month. Ferguson said this allegedly misleading plan cost 500,000 Comcast customers at least $73 million in fees from 2011 through the end of 2015.
A sample of recorded calls between SPP subscribers and Comcast representatives obtained by the AG's office revealed Comcast signed up more than half of all SPP subscribers without their consent. The AG's office said Comcast deceived consumers, telling them the SPP plan was free, when in fact, Comcast automatically charged them every month.
“This new evidence makes clear that Comcast's conduct is even more egregious than we first realized,” Ferguson said. “The extent of their deception is shocking, and I will hold them accountable for their treatment of Washington consumers.”
The AG's office also claims Comcast refused to produce call recordings between the company and Washington customers, which impeded their investigation. Only after a judge ordered Comcast to comply in May 2017 did Comcast admit it already deleted 90% of the calls that the AG's office had been requesting as part of its investigation. The AG's office filed a motion, asking the judge to levy sanctions against Comcast for discarding potential evidence.
Ferguson says the lawsuit is the first case of its kind in the U.S. Ferguson alleges there were more than 1.8 million individual violations of the Washington state Consumer Protection Act.
Ferguson also accused Comcast of charging for other services that should have been free. Comcast allegedly promised customers it would not charge them for a service visit resulting from a problem that was Comcast's.
Comcast said in a statement that the company strongly disagrees with Ferguson's claims.
"The Attorney General's new assertions are largely based on a flawed methodology and assumptions, and today's press conference misrepresented the facts," said Marianne Bichsel, vice president of external affairs for Comcast's Washington Region, in a statement.
The AG's Office is seeking:
- $73 million for the Service Protection Plan
- $1 million for the service calls that should have been free
- Removal of improper credit checks from over 6,000 customers
- Up to $2,000 per violation of the Consumer Protection Act
- Correct the issues that led to the allegations
It's not clear how much individual customers could receive in refunds if the state wins or settles the lawsuit.