Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, at the Sun Valley Conference on July 12, 2018 in Sun Valley, Idaho
Photo: Getty Images

Comcast will cancel the debts of more than 20,000 customers and pay back $700,000 in Massachusetts as part of a settlement with the state’s Attorney General over deceptive advertising. Back in 2015 and early 2016, the cable giant advertised a $99 lock-in rate for plans that didn’t include equipment costs and had additional fees that could be jacked up at any time.

Just how bad was Comcast’s “lock-in rate” contract? The Attorney General’s office explains that a typical monthly bill would get jacked up roughly 40 percent and anyone who wanted to cancel their contract early was slapped with up to $240 as an “early termination fee.” Even customers who merely downgraded their services to a cheaper plan with Comcast were charged the early termination fee.

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“Comcast stuck too many Massachusetts customers with lengthy, expensive contracts that left many in debt and others with damaged credit,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement posted online. “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.”

But Comcast sees the entire situation differently, as you might expect. In a great example of PR spin, the cable giant insists that all of this is old news.

“Today’s settlement with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office reflects our ongoing effort to improve the customer experience,” Comcast representative Jenni Moyer told Gizmodo over email.

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“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.”

Did you catch that? Nothing to see here, because this is “years-old.” Which is meant to make you think that nobody should care about this at all. Who can even remember 2016? It was a lifetime ago. And Comcast is now “partnering with Attorney General Healey.” What does that mean? Gizmodo asked about that and Comcast replied, “We’ve been working with the Attorney General on this and that is a reference to our ongoing relationship.” But that doesn’t mean anything. The AG’s office and Comcast only have a “relationship” in the sense that Comcast has to now hand over a bunch of money because the settlement said so.

From the Massachusetts AG:

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.

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Comcast is now required to include any additional fees for its services in all advertisements that appear in Massachusetts and the state is making the cable company train sales reps to disclose “true monthly service prices” to any potential customers.

Telling customers what they’re actually going to pay? What a revolutionary idea. I wonder if we’ll see that spread anywhere else outside of Massachusetts. Could be a real game changer.

[Motherboard and Mass.gov]

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