The Federal Communications Commission announced Tuesday, Oct. 11 that it has fined Comcast Corporation to close an investigation into whether the company charged customers for service or equipment they never authorized.
The FCC announced the fine in a Tuesday press release, saying its rules prohibit cable providers from charging customers for services that were never requested.
The term used for this practice is “negative option billing.”
“It is basic that a cable bill should include charges only for services and equipment ordered by the customer—nothing more and nothing less,” Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, said in the release.
“We expect all cable and phone companies to take responsibility for the accuracy of their bills and to ensure their customers have authorized any charges.”
The FCC reports it received “numerous” complains from customers saying that Comcast added unauthorized charges to their bills for services such as premium channels, set-top boxes, DVRs and more.
“Negative option billing” not only adds unauthorized charges for unwanted services, but it places the burden on the customer for finding, disputing and gaining a refund for the charges, according to the release.
Some of the complaints by customers said they were billed even after declining the services or equipment. Others reported that they had no knowledge of the charges until they received unordered products in the mail or noticed a charge notification.
The settlement means that Comcast will pay what the FCC is calling the “largest civil penalty assessed” from the commission and will be placed in a five-year compliance plan.
“Specifically, Comcast will adopt processes and procedures designed to obtain affirmative informed consent from customers prior to charging them for any new services or equipment,” the release reads. “Comcast will also send customers an order confirmation separate from any other bill, clearly and conspicuously describing newly added products and their associated charges.
“Further, Comcast will offer to customers, at no cost, the ability to block the addition of new services or equipment to their accounts.”
Comcast agreed to the terms of the fine without admitting guilt. CNN Money reports that Comcast said the unauthorized charges were due to human error and not “problematic policy or intentional wrongdoing.”
For those who wish to file a consumer complaint with the FCC, click here or call 1-888-225-5322.