CATEGORY: SUP Lee Board of SupervisorsMOULDE
NOTE: DATE IS INCORRECT. PUBLISHED IN SPRING, 1994.
Comcast denies wrongdoing; state may expand suit
By PHILIP MOULDEN
Comcast Cable Co. denied allegations it is engaged in deceptive marketing practices and has filed suit in a federal court seeking a ruling that its billing procedures are legal.
Meanwhile, Mississippi officials said they are exploring the possibility of expanding the state’s lawsuit against Comcast and an affiliate. The Tupelo area is served by Comcast, but the local outlet was not named in the state’s suit filed last week in Forrest County.
Comcast Cable Communications President Thomas Baxter said the company has asked a federal court judge in Florida to declare the company’s practices legal.
“We are eager to present our case and anticipate a favorable ruling from the court,” Baxter said.
Florida was among eight states, including Mississippi, that filed suits against Comcast outlets last week, contending the companies engaged in “negative billing,” a practice outlawed by federal and state regulations.
The suit filed by Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore specifically accused Comcast and its Hattiesburg affiliate, Pinebelt Cablevision, of charging for optional services without the authority of subscribers.
Moore cited separate charges for a “Value Package” that included four channels, and CableGuard, an insurance plan that covers the cost of service calls for problems attributed to customer-owned equipment. Charges for those packages were levied on all subscribers, unless customers advised the cable company to remove them.
Moore said federal and state laws prohibit billing for optional services unless they are requested by the subscriber.
But Baxter contended the practice adheres to Federal Communications Commission regulations that took effect Sept. 1, 1993. Those rules permitted restructuring of rates without regard to the negative billing prohibition “if subscribers will continue to receive the same number of channels and the same equipment,” Baxter said.
“Contrary to the allegations of these suits, no customer is today paying for any services he did not pay for prior to the restructuring of rates on Sept. 1, 1993,” he said.
Comcast merely “unbundled” its billings to itemize rates for various services as required by FCC rules, Baxter claimed.
However, Moore’s suit alleges Comcast bills did not show a corresponding reduction in basic prices after the contested services were billed separately.
Special Assistant Attorney General Leslie Staehle said Monday the state will follow developments in Comcast’s Florida lawsuit, but said it would not necessarily effect Mississippi’s case. She indicated state attorneys also may add Comcast outlets in Tupelo, Corinth, Laurel and Meridian as defendants in the suit.
“We are not aware of any (other cable firms) in the state doing negative billing, but if there are we’d certainly like to know about it,” she said.
State Comcast officials have declined comment, referring all questions to the company’s headquarters in Philadelphia, Pa.