Installation stories at Techdirt.

of fresh-guy department

Any review of our continuing coverage of Comcast will leave you with the impression that the mega-company is almost perfectly terrible at customer service, only seems interested in growing as quickly as possible while eliminating anything resembling the potential for competition in its market, and did everything in its power to kill net neutrality on top of all that. While many might believe that Comcast is getting killed by the same era of cord-cutting that is forcing so many others in the entertainment space to reach the Tums, we recently noted that the cable company continues to gain money in hand. This is done, at least in part, by the company’s subtle strategy of simply increasing what it charges customers for Internet services.

This is also apparently done in part by charging Comcast customers an installation fee for locations already tuned to Comcast service.

In our testing, signing up for a standalone Internet or TV service on Comcast.com often requires paying an installation fee of $59.99 or $89.99, depending on where you live. (Fees were $60 in two Massachusetts suburbs and $90 in homes in Houston, Texas, and Seattle, Washington.) In cases where a $60 or $90 fee is billed, fees apply whether you buy your own modem or rent one from Comcast. for another $11 per month.

Installation fees may be charged even if the home you are purchasing service from has existing Comcast service, and even if you are ordering lower Internet speeds than the current occupant purchased. This means the fee is charged even when Comcast doesn’t have to make any upgrades to the house or apartment you’re moving into. Internet speed makes no difference, as charges may apply if you purchase 15 Mbps downloads or gigabit service.

Comcast is pretty well known for making these types of fees a key part of its revenue model. What may not be as well known, including by some Comcast customer service agents, is that the website appears to be designed to prevent people from rightly avoiding these charges when bringing their own equipment at the table, or when the residence already has Comcast service. It’s also worth noting that these fees typically only come into play when a customer signs up for a standalone Internet or TV service, rather than buying a bundle. It seems to be a way to extract money specifically from cord cutters.

Ars Technica brought the charges to the attention of Comcast customer service, a representative told them that any questions about the installation charges customers would incur by signing up for Comcast service in a residence that already has the service is Not applicable, as customers cannot sign up for service at an occupied residence they will later move into. To sign up for service in this case, the customer will need to call Comcast and have an agent contact the current occupant to ensure they are actually leaving the house before the order can be taken. This, unsurprisingly, appears to be incorrect.

I was able to schedule installation appointments and enter credit card numbers to sign up for service in homes where the current resident is a Comcast subscriber. Hitting the “Submit Order” button would have charged my card $50 immediately, enough to cover the first monthly payment of $30 and part of the setup fee.

I didn’t click the “Submit Order” button because I wanted to avoid credit card charges and a confusing situation with Comcast installers. But once I reported this to the Comcast spokesperson, the company stopped denying that it would be impossible to sign up for service at those homes without speaking to a Comcast agent.

Within days, Comcast’s automated system sent me two follow-up emails asking me to complete my order before unsubscribing from the messages. I was never told that I had to speak to a Comcast agent to set up the service.

As for the work done for that “setup” fee, it can often just consist of watching the customer set up their own devices themselves, then running a speed test to make sure it’s working properly. An Ars employee experienced this personally, installing his own modem, having the Comcast technician perform a speed test, and then being charged the installation fee, which was allegedly “mandatory.” And this kind of thing was not a one-time mistake.

“I just went straight to the Comcast website to order and noticed they no longer have a self-install option,” a Comcast customer wrote on a DSLReports forum.

Comcast was charging $59.99 “to come hook up MY modem,” the customer wrote.

Comcast’s apologies for these charges are legion. They range from claims that the very high speeds provided by Comcast justify setup fees, to claims that Comcast always disconnects the lines when a customer cancels service (which is not true remotely), to claims that the technicians work to verify the fidelity of the lines and connections justify the high fees. Frankly, it would be nice if Comcast could stick with just one line of bullshit, for the sake of simplicity.

And yet, this is a company that seeks to grow, grow and grow, while successfully lobbying the government to weed out its competitors. It’s the result of regulatory capture, in other words, and it should be an affront to anyone who believes in a healthy, freely competitive marketplace, or anyone who believes in consumer rights.

Filed Under: Broadband, Fees, Setup

Companies: comcast

About Irene J. O'Donnell

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