SEATTLE — Comcast, the largest cable TV company and home Internet service provider and third-largest home telephone service provider in the United States, overcharged its Washington subscribers and violated the state's Consumer Protection Act more than 445,000 times, a judge ruled Thursday.
King County Superior Court Judge Timothy Bradshaw ordered Comcast to pay the state nearly $9.1 million in penalties, in addition to providing restitution within 60 days to tens of thousands of Washington residents who were enrolled in Comcast's Service Protection Plan without their consent. The precise restitution amount has yet to be calculated.
“Despite Comcast’s systemic guidelines and policies, the practice of subscribing (Washington) customers without meaningful consent was widespread,” Bradshaw wrote in his ruling.
The $9.1 million civil penalty represents the highest trial award in any consumer protection case brought by the Washington Attorney General's Office. Attorney General Bob Ferguson brought the suit in 2016, targeting Service Protection Plan enrollments between 2011 and mid-2016, when Comcast took in more than $85 million in gross revenue from Washington alone in monthly SPP charges.
Bradshaw ruled that Comcast violated state consumer protection law 240,588 times by signing up SPP customers without their consent, and 205,260 more times for failing to disclose or misrepresenting the recurring cost of the SPP.
The practice was known as "slamming," and internal documents showed the company knew it was taking place. Even when customers agreed to enroll in SPP, Comcast agents "often either failed to disclose or misrepresented the recurring monthly cost of the SPP." Some were told they were receiving the SPP for free, or free for the first month.
In more than 1,400 customer call recordings disclosed under the lawsuit, Comcast added the SPP to at least 34 percent of customer accounts without their consent, sometimes after the customer had actively declined the plan.
Comcast Washington spokesman Nick McDonald noted Bradshaw ruled in the company's favor on several of the Attorney General’s key claims, and awarded less than 5 percent of what the state was seeking in damages.
"The judge recognized that any issues he did find have since been fully addressed by Comcast through the significant investments we have made in improving the customer experience ... and that throughout Comcast acted in good faith," McDonald said in an emailed statement. "We will continue to make significant investments in how we serve our customers because it is the right thing to do and are fully committed to our customers in Washington state.”