Comcast Hit with Record FCC Fine for Unauthorized Charges

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Comcast has been hit by the FCC with a record high fine on a cable company for charging its customers for products and services they did not request for.

The federal agency revealed on Tuesday that it has imposed a fine of $2.3 million on the cable company following confirmation that it had been charging customers for services and equipment they didn’t order. It described the fine as “the largest civil penalty assessed from a cable operator by the FCC.”

“It is basic that a cable bill should include charges only for services and equipment ordered by the customers – nothing more and nothing less,” Travis LeBlanc, chief of the regulator’s Enforcement Bureau, said in a statement. “We expect all cable and phone companies to take responsibility for the accuracy of their bills and to ensure their customers have authorized any charges.”

The fine on Comcast comes a year after the FCC requested customers of Internet and cable companies to send in their complaints in large number so as to provide sufficient basis for investigations and possible actions against these companies.

The communications commission said it received more than 1,000 complaints from Comcast customers. These alleged being charged for products such as cable boxes, premium channels and DVRs they never ordered. The charges sometimes came even when customers had indicated that they did not need add-on options.

Some of the customers claimed that they were sometimes not aware of unauthorized charges until the product or equipment which they did not request was delivered to their homes. The FCC said customers also complained about spending “significant time and energy to attempt to remove unauthorized charges from their bills and obtain refunds.”

The fine imposed was the result of investigation said to have been started by the commission almost two years ago.

Comcast has agreed to pay the fine without any admission of guilt. It said the complaints by its customers did not arise out of a “problematic policy or intentional wrongdoing,” but were the result of mediocre customer service or human error.

In addition to the fine, the cable company is also required to immediately commence implementation of a five-year compliance plan. This requires it to obtain affirmative and informed consent from its customers before they are charged for any service or equipment. Under the plan, customers must be sent special notifications whenever a new service or charge is added to their bills.

Comcast is also now required to provide a no-cost means for its customers to prevent new services or equipment from being added to their accounts. It will need to urgently revise its charge-dispute processes and ensure that customers’ complaints are properly addressed, with compensation provided when necessary.

Furthermore, the FCC will bar Comcast from sending accounts to collection or suspending a service while there is ongoing dispute over a charge.

The cable company said in a statement made available to Ars Technica that it already had commitment to effect most of the changes before they were ordered by the FCC. It said many were already being implemented or about to be.