Due to Graham’s schedule, this weeks Fine Print Friday will be a reprint of the most popular Fine Print Friday in the history of Pro and Contracts. Clearly Comcast rankles its customers, because this post has received fully 33% MORE views than the next most popular Fine Print Friday post. So read on, and let the Pro and Contracts community know if you have had any trouble with Comcast lately, or if you see anything in this post that you think has changed since it was initially run.
Fine Print Friday: Comcast Cable
As by far the largest provider of digital media services in the country (including cable television, internet, and digital phone), Comcast has many Fine Print Friday readers as customers. Since we always just sign off on the agreement so we can watch our favorite shows and surf our favorite web sites, the question is: What did we agree to? This week’s Fine Print Friday will illuminate some of the more interesting provisions of your agreement with Comcast.
1. No Warranty. Comcast specifically does not guarantee that the equipment and services will: (1) Meet your requirements, (2) Provide uninterrupted use, (3) Operate as required, (4) Operate without delay, or (5) Operate without error. Nor do they guarantee that the communications will be transmitted in their proper format. So basically, if you want digital services you can rely on to work how you expected them to work, when you expected them to work, then Comcast can’t provide that to you. According to their limitation of warranties (section 10), what you are paying for each month is the possibility of having service that works as advertised, but they can’t promise anything.
2. Monitored Internet Use. By signing up with Comcast as your internet service provider, you are giving them the right to monitor your internet use, including your “email, newsgroups, chat, IP audio and video, and Web space content.” That’s right–Comcast can read your email. So much for privacy.
3. No Sharing. The use of Comcast’s services can only be by the customer and the members of the customer’s household. Unfortunately, that means that if you have guests who don’t live with you, they can’t watch your cable TV, use your internet, or make phone calls from your digital voice service. Rats.
4. Price Changes: Right off the bat (well, in the third paragraph), Comcast’s Agreement for Residential Services sets out that Comcast can change the price of their services at any point, and you have to agree to it in order to continue receiving your service. They will give you 30 days notice, and if you don’t want to pay the new price, then you need to cancel or they will automatically renew your agreement at the new price. This really isn’t anything new–credit card companies do this all the time. But it still strikes me as odd that in these contracts we are agreeing to let the other party change the fundamental terms of the agreement at any time, giving the consumers no recourse. Comcast’s argument is likely that it’s beneficial to consumers that they can then leave the arrangement at any time, unlike with cell phone contracts (like AT&T’s) that have service-contract lengths.
5. Throttling. Comcast can change the speed of your internet connection, making it faster or slower, at any time and without notice. I’m sure many of us have experienced this phenomenon when trying to download something large, and then watching the speed slow down to a crawl.
6. Access to Customer Equipment. Although most equipment for Comcast services is rented from Comcast by the customer, there may be times at which the customer can buy his or her own equipment to use, perhaps for the purpose of avoiding the monthly rental charge. If you purchase your own equipment, Comcast still has the “unrestricted right” to upgrade or change the firmware in your device whenever it wants to. Essentially, this means that they can alter how your equipment works, without giving you notice, and it can be done via your existing cable connection, so you can’t even stop them from coming in to do it.
7. Tampering with Devices. If you do anything to any of the Comcast equipment (cable box, modem, etc.) that the installation was specifically supposed to do, then Comcast can determine you were tampering, and fine you $500. Their justification for this is that it is “difficult if not impossible to calculate precisely the lost revenue” due to the tampering. To me, this sounds more like Comcast just doesn’t want to do the work to calculate the actual damages, and would rather set a price high enough to make it worth something to them. Clearly, if you tried to just download a recorded program from your cable box, it wouldn’t deprive Comcast of $500 worth of revenue. But they’ll charge you that much anyway, and you agreed to it in their contract.
8. Limited Liability. This is nothing new to large-scale contracts like this, but Comcast’s limitation of liability extends to all “acts, omissions, and negligence,” and only in cases of gross negligence or willful misconduct will they consider paying on damages. And even then, the most they will pay is $500 (which is their default charge for tampering, as noted above). This section also notes that internet customers may need to have their computers opened up by the technicians for installation purposes. Aside from disclaiming the voiding of any warranties for the computer due to opening it up, presumably if the technician breaks your computer while in there, Comcast still only needs to pay you $500…if they admit to any liability at all.
9. Disruption of Service. Much like A2 Hosting’s Uptime Guarantee, Comcast places significant limits on the amount of refunds you can get if your internet goes out and causes you a loss in business. You must report the outage within 60 days, and you are only granted a pro-rated credit for any outage lasting more than 24 consecutive hours, with that credit not exceeding the full monthly charge for the service. No extra damages are credited, and this credit is also limited by a force majeure clause. And, of course, this credit is at Comcast’s discretion–they are not required to give you anything.
The Comcast Subscriber Agreement for Residential Services is too long to continue to write about in a single post. I may come back to it and do a second part if necessary. This list, however, represents what are the most important provisions in the contract for customers to know about.
It’s not a good contract for the customers, and it’s a very good contract for Comcast. But if you want their services (and in many places you don’t have a choice, as they are essentially a monopoly), then you have to play by their rules. At least know you will know what you are getting into.
UPDATE: An astute reader noticed that the link to the Residential Services Agreement above now links to an agreement that does not include the language quoted in point number 2 (Monitored Internet Use). That language still exists on Comcast.net, and you can download a PDF printout of that agreement here.