BOSTON – Comcast will pay refunds and cancel debts for more than 20,000 Massachusetts customers as part of a settlement resolving allegations that the company violated state consumer protection laws by using deceptive advertisements to promote its long-term cable contracts, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today.
The assurance of discontinuance, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, settles allegations that Comcast failed to adequately disclose the actual monthly price and terms of its long-term contracts for cable services, including failing to disclose to customers that the company could increase the price of certain monthly fees at any point during the long-term contracts.
“Comcast stuck too many Massachusetts customers with lengthy, expensive contracts that left many in debt and others with damaged credit,” said AG Healey. “Customers have a right to clear information about the products and services they buy. This settlement should encourage the entire cable and telecommunications industry to take a close look at their advertisements and make sure customers are getting a fair offer.”
According to the assurance of discontinuance, the AG’s Office alleges that Comcast provided inaccurate and misleading price information to consumers entering long-term contracts, leaving them stuck in agreements they could not afford. Comcast failed to adequately disclose fees that typically increased customers’ monthly bills by 40 percent above the advertised price. These customers were required to pay early termination fees of up to $240 to cancel long-term contracts, even when they downgraded Comcast services to a more affordable monthly package.
For example, the investigation found that in a series of advertisements, Comcast advertised a $99 lock-in rate but did not adequately disclose equipment costs and mandatory monthly fees associated with the long-term contract that would add to a customer’s monthly bill. The advertisements also failed to adequately disclose that the fees could increase while the customer was locked into the long-term contract.
As part of the settlement, Comcast will provide refunds to all Massachusetts consumers who paid early termination fees after downgrading their service or being involuntarily disconnected by Comcast between January 2015 and March 2016. The company will also forgive all outstanding unpaid early termination fees and related late fees that Massachusetts consumers incurred between January 2015 and March 2016. Comcast fully cooperated with the AG’s investigation.
The settlement also requires Comcast to change its practices to improve disclosures provided to consumers before they enter long-term contracts. Comcast must disclose the existence of additional fees in all advertisements, and train sales representatives to disclose true monthly service prices to customers before they enter long-term contracts.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Mychii Snape and Shennan Kavanagh of the AG’s Consumer Protection Division.
Comcast spokesman Marc Goodman offered the following statement concerning today's announcement: “Today’s settlement with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office reflects our ongoing effort to improve the customer experience. While we disagree with the allegations in the Assurance – which relate to years-old advertisements and do not reflect Comcast’s current policies and practices – we are committed to partnering with Attorney General Healey and others who share our commitment to improving the experience of our customers in all respects.”