The Attorney General of Washington has filed a new amended complaint in an ongoing lawsuit against Comcast, claiming that "new evidence" reveals "even more deceptive conduct than previously alleged."
The lawsuit, which was initially submitted in August 2016, alleged that hundreds of thousands of Washington residents were "deceived" into paying "at least $73 million in subscription fees over the last five years for a near-worthless ‘protection plan.’"
According to the amended complaint, which was filed in King County Superior Court on Thursday, newly obtained recorded calls between Comcast and its Washington customers who subscribed to its "Service Protection Plan" show "that Comcast may have signed up more than half of all SPP subscribers without their consent. Comcast deceived consumers even when mentioning the SPP, telling them the SPP plan was ‘free’ when they signed up, when in fact, Comcast would automatically charge them every month after the first month."
In a statement, Attorney General Bob Ferguson called this new evidence "even more egregious than we first realized."
"The extent of their deception is shocking, and I will hold them accountable for their treatment of Washington consumers," he continued.
As Ars reported earlier, Comcast’s claims are misleading for several reasons, according to the Washington AG’s Office. The service plans do not cover repairs of wire concealed within walls (or "wall-fished"). Some customers were told that the plans cover work outside their homes, even though repairs to Comcast equipment or outside wiring "are already covered [for free] by Comcast's Customer Guarantee promises," the lawsuit said.
"In short, due to limitations in the Terms and Conditions, the SPP often ends up failing to cover any repairs at all," the complaint continued.
"The short coaxial cable running from a customer's outlet to the cable box is typically Comcast Equipment that is covered by the Comcast Guarantee rather than the SPP, as are the HDMI cables provided by Comcast, and in many houses all of the remaining wiring is wall-fished. And as noted above, the SPP does not cover repairs to customer equipment, Comcast equipment, or outside wiring, either. In its advertisements and sales scripts, Comcast omitted the fact that repairs to customer equipment are not considered part of a 'service call.' Likewise, the advertisements failed to disclose that the Comcast Guarantee already covers service calls that "result from a Comcast equipment or network problem."
Comcast did not require customers to sign any agreement or confirm that they read the service plan terms and conditions before subscribing, and Comcast doesn't train or require its sales reps to send a copy of the terms and conditions to customers, the lawsuit said.
In May 2017, Comcast was ordered by King County Superior Court Judge Timothy Bradshaw to provide recordings of previous phone calls illustrating instances where Washingtonians were sold the SPP. In response, Comcast turned over 1,500 such calls.
According to the AG Office’s new statement, it analyzed a "random sample" of 150 calls, and found that in half of these calls, the SPP was not even mentioned. But that wasn't the end of the story.
"Additional consumers in the sample explicitly rejected the SPP, but Comcast signed them up anyway," the statement continues. "Consequently, Comcast enrolled more than half of these subscribers without their consent."
Comcast, for its part, denied any wrongdoing.
"We strongly disagree with the Attorney General’s new claims," Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast vice president and spokeswoman, e-mailed Ars in a statement.
"The Service Protection Plan gives those consumers who choose to purchase it great value by covering virtually all service charges over 99 percent of the time. The Attorney General’s new assertions are largely based on a flawed methodology and assumptions, and today’s press conference misrepresented the facts. In fact, the court flatly rejected the AG’s mischaracterization of Comcast’s routine handling of agent call records. We will continue to vigorously defend this in court."
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