How long is a lifetime? If you’re Comcast, it’s until a rival quits a city: ISP 'broke' price promise

Angry cable subscriber sues, claims 'never-ending' deal actually lasted just three years

Comcast Xfinity van

Maintaining its hard-won reputation for being one of the most-hated companies in America, Comcast has seemingly redefined the meaning of the word “lifetime” – and received a lawsuit in response.

Brian Baker has sued the cable giant in Utah for, it is alleged, going back on its promise to give him a “lifetime” price lock after it increased his cable bill by $10 a month less than three years after he signed up for service.

“Plaintiff alleges that Comcast offered ‘lifetime' contracts to some of its customers, especially in cities and neighborhoods where Google was aggressively offering’ a competing service,” the lawsuit [PDF, exhibit 1] states.

One of those cities was Salt Lake City in Utah, where Baker lives, and he took the deal, paying $120 a month for Comcast’s internet and TV offering instead of going with Google. That was back in 2016, when Google had gone all in to push its Google Fiber service as it expanded the service to six locations across the United States.

Google was offering gigabit internet for $70 a month, with internet and TV (and no data caps) costing $140 a month. In response, Comcast sent its sales reps into the field offering to give citizens “lifetime” contracts at prices below Google’s. Rather than pay $140 a month, Baker signed up with Comcast and got the same package, pretty much, for $120 a month.

And it made sense too. Although cable companies are constantly finding excuses to raise the price of their services, even while the actual cost of supplying their services goes down, there was every reason to believe that Comcast could maintain the $120 a month price indefinitely.

Pressure off, price rises on

But then what sparked the generous offer in the first place vanished: Google announced in February 2019 that it was scaling back its Google Fiber plans. It wouldn’t roll out to any new cities and it was pulling out of some it had already built out. From Comcast’s perspective, the pressure was off.

And you’ll never guess what happened next? Yep, those lifetime guarantees weren’t worth the money they aren’t printed on, it is claimed. Baker said his bill went up $10 a month. And he was lucky: his lawsuit cites increases of $50 a month for others.

And so he’s suing in an effort to force Comcast to stick to its word. In order to make it worth a lawyer’s while taking on the monster that is Comcast, he is also seeking to make it a class-action lawsuit, claiming that there are approximately 40,000 similarly affected people in Utah who are paying between $10 and $50 more than they were promised: equating to damages somewhere between $4.8m and $24m.

For it to be accepted as a class-action lawsuit in Utah, there needs to be at least 100 people affected with damages exceeding $5m.

Comcast has a month to respond to the allegations, though we already have a good idea what its defense will be. According to those at the end of the lifetime price increases, when they called the cable giant to complain, they were informed, simply, that no such lifetime plan exists, apparently.

In the meantime, according to the latest filings in the case, submitted this month, Comcast appears to be attempting to transfer the legal battle out of Utah and to the federal courts.

Baker’s allegations, filed mid-August, hinge on what he and others were told by sales staff and the addition of the word “lifetime” on their contracts. He’s suing for breach of contract. We suspect the courts are about to hear from an overpaid lawyer that the word “lifetime” means something very different to what they thought it did.

Of course, you could argue that Baker is at fault. It wouldn’t be hard for a Comcast lawyer to make the case, based on a long and well publicized history of Comcast’s actions, that no one should ever believe a single thing the corporation says. ®

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