Comcast fined $2.3M to end probe into mischarging customers

This Feb. 11, 2011 file photo shows the logo on a Comcast truck in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, file)
This Feb. 11, 2011 file photo shows the logo on a Comcast truck in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, file)

NEW YORK (AP) — Government regulators are fining Comcast $2.3 million, saying the cable giant has charged customers for stuff they never ordered, like premium channels or extra cable boxes.

The Federal Communications Commission said the Philadelphia company must clearly ask customers before charging them for new services or equipment and make it easier for customers to fight charges they think are wrong.

“It is basic that a cable bill should include charges only for services and equipment ordered by the customer — nothing more and nothing less,” said Travis LeBlanc, head of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau. “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.”

Comcast said Tuesday that it’s been working to improve customer service — it has long had a bad reputation for how it treats subscribers — and that the problems uncovered by the FCC stemmed from “isolated errors or customer confusion” rather than Comcast intentionally mischarging its 22 million cable-TV subscribers.

The FCC’s settlement with Comcast, which resolves a two-year investigation, said that some customers complained that they were charged for a service or equipment after they specifically said no to Comcast reps. The agency said there were “many” complaints about “hours-long and repeated phone calls” to try to fix the problem and claims of “unhelpful of abusive behavior” from customer-service representatives, like calls getting disconnected.

A Senate investigation this summer had also criticized Comcast and Time Warner Cable, now owned by Charter Communications, for often failing to refund customers who had been mistakenly charged for cable boxes.

The FCC said Tuesday that it’s largest civil fine for a cable operator, though likely not too great a financial burden for Comcast Corp., which recorded a profit of more than $8 billion last year. The agency has fined other companies larger amounts, such as a $100 million fine last year against AT&T for slowing cellphone customers’ data speeds. The wireless carrier is contesting that fine.