A hot potato: Comcast isn't exactly new to running afoul of law makers, but its recent stunt in Washington resulting in a $9.1 million fine (excluding restitution) is being heralded as the largest trial award in a state consumer protection case. The previous record for a case of this kind was $4.3 million.
A Washington State court ruling earlier this week indicated that ISP Comcast violated the Consumer Protection Act some 445,000 times. Washington's ruling emanates from Comcast engaging in a dubious practice known as "slamming."
In slamming customers, Comcast was signing up tens of thousands of Washington residents for its Service Protection Plan without their consent. Furthermore, Comcast failed to accurately represent or inform customers of the cost of the SPP. In total, Comcast was charging almost 31,000 customers for the SPP nonconsensually, while it misrepresented the cost to 18,600 Washington customers.
“Comcast refused to accept responsibility for its egregious conduct that resulted in Washingtonians losing money every month for a product they did not want or request,” Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said via press release.
Ferguson continued, "Instead of making things right for Washingtonians, Comcast sent an army of corporate lawyers into court to try to avoid accountability. My legal team demonstrated that we’re capable of meeting the world’s largest corporations in court – and winning. Part of my job is keeping giant corporations honest. Big or small, every business must play by the rules."
Records demonstrated that Comcast enrolled customers into the monthly plan even after they actively declined it. Other internal documents and data showed Comcast customer service agents failed to inform customers of the recurring costs of the plan, and instead stated they were receiving the plan for free, or free for a month.
From 2011 through mid-2016, Comcast earned an estimated $85 million in revenue from its SPP practices, and that's just in Washington alone. As a result, Comcast has been ordered to pay a $9.1 million penalty, and refund customers immediately. Additionally, Comcast will pay a 12 percent interest on an undecided amount of restitution. While the restitution amount is currently undetermined, it's expected to be "significant."
Comcast's violations of the Consumer Protection Act stack up like this:
- 240,588 violations for signing up SPP customers without their consent
- 205,260 violations for failing to disclose or misrepresenting the recurring cost of the SPP
While the $9.1 million is indeed record breaking for the state of Washington, it's a rather paltry sum relative to what Comcast earned from its deceptive practices -- and represents only a fraction of the $171 million originally sought. Still, a win is a win, and it will hopefully set an important precedent. As of May 2018, before the lawsuit went to trial, Comcast stopped offering the Service Protection Plan.