The suit charges that Comcast sold about half a million of its Washington subscribers on a $4.99 monthly plan that purported to protect them from having to pay a fee if a technician came to their homes to fix certain issues related to their service. While Comcast insisted the plan was “comprehensive,” it didn't cover repairs to wall-fished wiring, which is the most common type of writing in American homes.
In addition, the suit alleges Comcast charged thousands of Washington customers service fees for problems that originated on its network, which should have been covered by company. The company also allegedly gave new customers the option of paying a deposit instead of submitting to a credit credit check; however, the suit charges, Comcast in many instances ran a credit check on people who opted for the deposit and charged a deposit fee for people whose credit should have been high enough to not require a deposit.
All in all, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson asserts that Comcast violated the state's Consumer Protection Act over 1.8 million times. State officials had been going back and forth with Comcast regarding concerns about its Service Protection Plan for about a year. Comcast no longer offers the plan to new customers, but it is still active for customers who signed up for it before the policy change.
“This case is a classic example of a big corporation deceiving its customers for financial gain,” Ferguson said in a statement on Monday. “I won’t allow Comcast to continue to put profits above customers—and the law.”
For it's part, Comcast asserts that, in recent months, it had made changes to its disclosure policies, which should have been sufficient to cover the Attorney General's concerns. “We worked with the Attorney General’s office to address every issue they raised, and we made several improvements based on their input," a Comcast representative told the Verge. “Given that we were committed to continue working collaboratively with the Attorney General’s office, we’re surprised and disappointed that they have instead chosen litigation.”
Washington is the only state to sue Comcast over its Service Protection Plan. The plan is available to customers nationally—meaning other states could, quite literally, follow suit.
Ferguson has a reputation for this type of high-profile consumer protection action. Earlier this year, his office reached a $26 million settlement with German automaker Volkswagon over the deceptive marketing of its “clean diesel” vehicles, which were systematically designed by the manufacturer to cheat emissions tests. Ferguson also recently filed suit against Johnson & Johnson over the way it marketed a pelvic mesh product for women.
As Josh King, chief legal counsel at the legal website Avvo, told the Seattle Times, these types of suits usually don't go all the way to trail. Instead, he expects that Comcast, already weary of its reputation as one of the least popular companies in America, to settle. “The state is going to use all the tools at its disposal,” he said. “Pretty much every state’s attorney general is not above using the lever of public opinion in order to get better results.”