Lawyers from Comcast and the State of Washington met in King County Superior Court Friday to debate evidence in a rare consumer protection lawsuit headed for trial.
The case involves a Comcast product called the Service Protection Plan (SPP), a monthly paid service that covers maintenance of in-home wiring for Xfinity TV, internet and voice, and troubleshooting for customer-owned equipment. Washington claims Comcast repeatedly violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act (CPA) by signing customers up for the SPP without their consent, misleading them to believe the service was free, and misrepresenting what the service guaranteed.
“Consumers who get signed up for a service over the phone without being told about it are potentially deceived as to whether or not they have that service, even if they get disclosures later,” Assistant Attorney General Seann Colgan said during the hearing Friday. “That’s really where this comes down under the law.”
Colgan also noted that the SPP is a lucrative product for Comcast, claiming sales of the product accounted for $85 million in revenue for the company between 2011 and 2016.
Comcast’s attorneys claim that the cases cited by the Attorney General’s office were in the extreme minority and the result of a few bad apples who were fired or seriously disciplined.
“When you’re dealing with millions of interactions, there will be mistakes,” said Comcast attorney Howard Shapiro. “There will be misconduct. Comcast, like any other large entity, is not full of perfect humans who every time, do everything right. But that is not a CPA violation.”
Comcast revised its SPP policies in 2017 to be more transparent.
The original lawsuit, brought by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson in August 2016, alleged that Comcast engaged in more than 1.8 million individual violations of the Consumer Protection Act related to the SPP.
In late 2017, Ferguson expanded the $100 million lawsuit after further investigation, which included an analysis of sample customer calls. Ferguson is now seeking more penalties for Comcast’s alleged behavior. In a news release at the time, the AG’s office said that “Comcast may have signed up more than half of all SPP subscribers without their consent,” and charged some customers for the SPP after telling them it was free.
On Friday, Judge Timothy Bradshaw granted a motion by Comcast to dismiss one component of the state’s argument tied to sales of the SPP to “multiple dwelling units.” But he rejected an argument by Comcast that federal law preempts Washington’s lawsuit.
Comcast and the State of Washington will go to trial in December or January. The official start date of the trial is still in flux.