Comcast Forced to Refund $700,000 in Hidden Fee Fiasco

It's official: Cable companies can be sketchy as hell.

Credit: Shutterstock

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The Massachusetts attorney general's office announced this week that during 2015 and 2016, Comcast failed to disclose extra fees that increased customers' monthly bills, and also failed to disclose that those fees could increase during a customer's contract.

For example, in one series of advertisements, Comcast advertised a $99 rate but hid a number of equipment fees and other mandatory monthly fees. Customers who wanted to terminate or downgrade their accounts after learning of the hidden fees were required to pay "early termination fees" of up to $240.

Comcast will issue refunds to 20,000 Massachusetts customers, according to the attorney general's statement. Those customers will include all those who paid early termination fees after downgrading or having their service cut. All unpaid termination fees and late fees incurred between January 2015 and March 2016 will be canceled.

In addition, Comcast is now required to disclose all of its fees in its advertisements. Sales representatives have to disclose the full monthly price to customers before the customers sign a contract.

Comcast disputed that it had done anything wrong, even as it said it no longer did those things.

"While we disagree with the allegations in the [settlement] — which relate to years-old advertisements and do not reflect Comcast's current policies and practices — we are committed to partnering with Attorney General [Maura] Healey and others who share our commitment to improving the experience of our customers in all respects," the company said in a statement.

Massachusetts isn't the only state in which Comcast has been accused of deceptive practices. A class-action lawsuit filed in California in 2016 claims that Comcast's "broadcast TV fee" and "regional sports fee," which the company still bills customers, were hidden from customers in both advertisements and bills.

The two fees earned Comcast over $1 billion a year, the lawsuit alleges. The broadcast TV fee adds nearly $8 to user bills every month, and both fees have increased by 241 percent in the past three years.

So the fight for cable-bill transparency is far from over — but this settlement may be a step in the right direction.

Monica Chin is a writer at The Verge, covering computers. Previously, she was a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she wrote about everything from artificial intelligence to social media and the internet of things to. She had a particular focus on smart home, reviewing multiple devices. In her downtime, you can usually find her at poetry slams, attempting to exercise, or yelling at people on Twitter.