Tag Archives: minnesota

Penalties, but not prevention, for deceptive ISP billing practices

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Consumer reports cable billing 3oct2019

It’s common practice for big, monopoly model broadband providers to promise low prices to new subscribers, then tack on arbitrary fees after they’re locked into long term contracts. AT&T was recently slammed for adding a property tax surcharge to some customers’ bills – no one has figured out yet why AT&T thinks it can do that in the first place, let alone why it more than doubled the charge – California property tax rate hikes are tightly restricted. Frontier Communications also adds fees on top of the rates customers have agreed to.

Comcast is a frequent target of consumer billing complaints, and state attorneys general are listening. Just about a year ago, the Minnesota attorney general took Comcast to court over billing practices. The case was settled on Wednesday. According to the Minnesota AG

Part of being able to afford your life means knowing the full cost of what you’re getting, getting what you were promised, not being overcharged for things you didn’t ask for, and not being unfairly charged to get rid of things you didn’t ask for. But when people signed up for Comcast, that’s what happened to them…This settlement will help put money back in Comcast’s customers’ pockets where it should have been in the first place. Just as importantly, it provides millions of dollars’ worth of debt relief. And we’ve made sure that going forward, Comcast customers will know exactly how much they’ll pay for service before they sign up for it. That should put an end to unpleasant surprises.

Another deceptive billing case in Washington state last year resulted in Comcast being hit with a $9 million fine, plus orders to make refunds to customers.

It’s not just broadband service – arbitrary fees are added to the full range of products and services that telephone and cable companies provide. A study by Consumer Reports showed that the typical cable TV customer pays an extra $450 a year, just because. The graphic above breaks that down.

So far, little has been done to stop deceptive billing practices in the first place. That could change. The Federal Communications Commission’s declaration that broadband isn’t a telecommunications service passed the buck to the Federal Trade Commission, which might or might not get around to doing something about it. State governments also have a role to play – a federal appeals court opened the door to broadband consumer protection laws and other state-level regulation last year. So far though, no one in Sacramento has shown much interest in walking through it.

Comcast continues aggressive bill at will tactics against customers, Minnesota attorney general says

by Steve Blum • ,

Comcast deceived thousands of customers in Minnesota, according to a complaint filed last month by the state’s attorney general’s office. It’s a familiar story: customers are lured in by impossibly low prices that aren’t honored, and by additional fees for services that customers didn’t order and that no one thought to mention.

According to a story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by Torey Van Oot, a major problem is that Comcast’s phone representatives – who don’t have a sterling reputation to begin with – can’t be trusted…

The complaint outlines practices and communications that state prosecutors say put Comcast afoul of Minnesota’s consumer protection laws against deception and fraud. Those actions include quoting a fixed price and then charging another, much higher rate and signing consumers up for new services or products without their permission.

Those hikes often come in the form of added fees that [then-attorney general Lori Swanson] said can boost a customer’s quoted package price by upward of 30 percent…

Barbara Laporte saw her bill jump from $107 to $143 a month between 2016 and 2018, even though she thought she was signing up for a fixed two-year rate. During one 2016 customer service call released by Swanson’s office, a representative repeatedly assures Laporte that she will receive the lower price of $107.38, even “after taxes and equipment.”

Comcast’s response was typical. Instead of addressing the corporate practices and policy at the root of the problem, the company issued a general denial and oiled squeaky wheels by addressing a few of the individual complaints.

Since the lawsuit was filed, Swanson was replaced as attorney general by former congressman Keith Ellison. All mention of the case, including the original press release, has disappeared from the attorney general office’s website. Presumably, the case will be pursued, despite the changing of the guard, but that’s yet to be confirmed.