Attorneys for the State of Washington asked for more than $171 million from Comcast this week in closing arguments of one of the state’s biggest consumer protection lawsuits in recent history.
The state is asking Judge Timothy Bradshaw to award $88 million in restitution for consumers and $83 million in civil penalties for alleged consumer protection violations, plus attorney fees. The trial concluded this week, two years after Attorney General Bob Ferguson first filed the complaint in King County Superior Court.
The case centers on a Comcast program called the Service Protection Plan, a monthly subscription that covers maintenance of in-home wiring for Xfinity TV, internet and voice, and troubleshooting for customer-owned equipment. Comcast stopped selling new subscriptions to the plan in May 2018.
The prosecution claims that Comcast violated Washington state’s Consumer Protection Act tens of thousands of times by signing customers up for the Service Protection Plan without their consent, failing to disclose that there was a monthly fee associated with it, and misrepresenting what was covered. The state claims that sales of the product resulted in $85 million in legally dubious revenue from the Service Protection Plan between 2011 and 2016.
“Their promise was untrue, it was deceptive, and it was a consumer protection violation,” said Daniel Davies, an attorney for the state, during closing arguments this week.
Comcast questions the methodology of the state’s investigation into the Service Protection Plan and attributes the alleged violations to a few bad apples. The telecom giant says that employees who acted improperly were quickly disciplined or fired.
“We’re not saying it never happened,” said Comcast attorney Matthew Martens. “The issue is frequency. The issue is how often did it occur and the state, who has the burden of proof, has been unable to answer that question with reliable scientific analysis.”
The original lawsuit, brought by Ferguson in August 2016, alleged that Comcast engaged in more than 1.8 million individual violations of the Consumer Protection Act related to the Service Protection Plan. In late 2017, Ferguson expanded the lawsuit, estimating the state would ask for closer to $100 million after further investigation, which included an analysis of sample customer calls.
The state’s request in closing arguments this week goes even further. “Penalties must be significant enough to deter violations,” said Davies.
Comcast balked at the request for $171 million.
“This is not reasonable,” Martens said. “That demand is not rational … that demand is not lawful. It is unconstitutional and it is not just.”