Comcast violated the Consumer Protection Act a whopping 445,000 times, a Washington State court ruled on Thursday. The ruling stems from accusations by the state’s attorney general that the telecom giant signed up tens of thousands of customers for a shitty monthly program without their consent.
King County Superior Court Judge Timothy Bradshaw’s ruling in the lawsuit, which was filed by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, orders Comcast to pay approximately $9.1 million in penalties—the highest state Consumer Protection Act case to date, according to Ferguson’s office—on top of the restitution to the thousands of customers who were nonconsensually signed up for the plan.
Comcast’s Service Protection Plan cost $6 a month (it was $5 a month until just before Ferguson filed his lawsuit) and effectively covered the expense of a technician showing up to your home to inform you that something is wrong. That’s… pretty much all it covered, due to a bunch of caveats detailed in the program’s fine print. It was a monthly cost that basically got you nothing, and yet Comcast added it on to 30,946 Washingtonians’ accounts without informing them, according to state authorities, who said it didn’t provide 18,660 Washingtonians with accurate information on how much the program costs.
Over the course of about five years, from 2011 through mid-2016, Washington-based customers alone, Comcast raked in over $85 million in revenue from the Service Protection Plan, according to Ferguson’s office. As of May of last year, just before Ferguson’s lawsuit went to trial, Comcast indicated on its website that the plan was “no longer available for new subscriptions.”
“Comcast refused to accept responsibility for its egregious conduct that resulted in Washingtonians losing money every month for a product they did not want or request,” Ferguson said in the press release. “Instead of making things right for Washingtonians, Comcast sent an army of corporate lawyers into court to try to avoid accountability.”
Of the nearly half a million violations, 240,588 were for nonconsensually signing customers up for the plan, and the remaining were for either not informing customers of the monthly cost or misrepresenting it, according to the decision. The judge ruling that Comcast has to pay back all of the customers affected by its practices, though it’s unknown how much that’ll cost the company when it’s all said and done. Comcast has 60 days to award the refunds.
As Ars Technica points out, the $9 million fine may be a state-level record-breaker, but it’s a fraction of the revenue it made from the useless-as-hell monthly “service.” Still, you gotta take every victory you can get.
Update 6:05pm: “We’re pleased that the Court ruled in our favor on several of the Attorney General’s key claims and awarded less than 5 percent of what he was seeking in damages,” a Comcast spokesperson told Gizmodo in an email. “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 consent process, and that throughout Comcast acted in good faith. 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.”