A surprise $40 charge from Comcast

Len44k/Shutterstock
Len44k/Shutterstock

When Antonia Balazs has a service problem with Comcast, it tries to sell her a pricey “service” contract. Is that a fair resolution?

Question: I have a question about a $40 charge from Comcast added to my bill without disclosure.

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I recently had a problem with my phone. I called Comcast and a technician came to my home, but without first telling me there might be a service charge. I was never shown a work order or informed about a possible charge.

The problem he came out to address was actually something both I and the person on the phone should have thought to fix: the phone cord was broken.

I called Comcast to get the charge removed, and a manager in a Texas call center said I only have one option, which is to sign up for a service contract and then retroactively get a refund. She was actually very nice and even though I was upset and possibly a bit loud she agreed that she’d be upset, too.

Comcast made a mistake by not telling me there could or would be a charge. And their solution? They wanted to upsell? Funnily enough, I’ve stuck by Comcast for many years because they’ve had very good customer service.

I’m now looking for other options — I can’t be with a company that expects me to pay for charges I was never told about and never agreed to. I’ve Tweeted to Comcast about this and I’m thinking of getting Amex involved.

What are your thoughts? — Antonia Balazs, Washington

Answer: My thoughts? Comcast should have told you about the fees. Right up front.

If a representative didn’t disclose the $40 charge by phone, then you probably wouldn’t have found out by looking at its site. You can see plenty of complaints about Comcast’s service charges in its own forums, but the average customer probably wouldn’t have unearthed any disclosure of a possible fee with a quick search.

Still, should you assume a technician will visit your home for free? And particularly if, by your own admission, you don’t have Comcast’s line “coverage”?

I don’t know, but if this had happened to me, I would have asked Comcast how much it intended to charge for the visit before it dispatched a technician. But then again, that’s how we consumer advocates get after a while; we always assume the worst. (Too often, we are right.)

Comcast’s Customer Service Guarantee certainly leaves you with the impression that all will be fixed right away when you have a service complaint, that it will, in its words, “quickly address any problem you experience.” But then, you got stuck with a $40 bill and an offer to erase it only after signing up for “coverage.”

This problem was fixable, but you missed a few steps along the way. It looks as if you spent a lot of time on the phone (ironically, perhaps) and then skipped straight to a shame campaign on social media, and mulling a credit card dispute.

My hard-working resolutions team got to you before you could stop your Amex charges — you didn’t really want to do that — and we advised you to blaze a clean paper trail between you and Comcast. You had already started one, comprised of a single missive via instant messenger, which was a good start.

Eventually, we supplied you with executive contacts at Comcast. A polite email to the executive office did the trick. Comcast emailed you back, noting that “this is definitely not the quality of service and support we expect our customers to receive” and agreed to credit you with the $40.

Next time your phone breaks, don’t assume your repairs will be “free.” In a surcharge-obsessed economy, nothing is free.

Do you believe a company when it offers something for "free"?

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46 thoughts on “A surprise $40 charge from Comcast

  1. Comcast never said anything about the visit being free. So how does the poll even come close to the article? Do you want the discussion to be about the word ‘free’? Or about people not thinking before committing to a service and being surprised with a charge?

  2. My understanding of most phone companies is that if the problem is found outside of your home’s wiring, the service visit and repair are free; however, if the problem is inside your home, you’re on the hook for the bill. I don’t think I would ever assume that the phone company would come fix my phone for free. I always try to take care of things on my own before calling for assistance.

    My thoughts are that the $40 was reasonable. The OP should have checked the phone cord herself, as she admits. The technician was using service time and a company vehicle, and provided a service, albeit one that wouldn’t have been necessary if the OP had checked the phone cord.

    The only way you can get “free” service calls from many companies is by paying a subscription, thus negating the “free” offering.

  3. $40 was a steal for a truck roll and the technician’s time. As much as telcos can improve service, I disagree with the OP that the customer service rep “should have thought to fix” the inside wiring. Ma Bell (or Comcast) hasn’t owned customers’ wiring and phones now for about 30 years.

    Comcast came out on a service call to fix a very specific problem with the customer’s equipment.

    What if I called the water company because my dishwasher wasn’t filling, and the water guy found that the water was fine, but wound up resetting the circuit breaker for me? I would have no expectation that, because I wasn’t explicitly notified upfront of a charge, that I wouldn’t owe for the service.

    1. I agree the price is not bad and they do stick closely to their appointment times. But not being told there is a fee for something they used to not charge for is problematic. Surprises are rarely good, and the consistant lack of disclosure about the fee is not an accident in my opinion. They’d likely wind up waiving less fees by disclosing it up front, most everyone would still say yes come over and less stress on their own customer service people by getting angry calls when the statement drops.

  4. To me, $40 for a service call is very reasonable, though the CSR should have mentioned it. Every time I have called Verizon for my home phone problems they remind me before scheduling the visit that it will be $75 if it is the wiring in my home and free if it is outside my walls. Now, I suspect that every time I have called it has been because the condo management company messed something up when adding new owners’ lines to the secure entry system, but it has always counted as “outside” so I haven’t had to pay.

  5. Comcast did a similar thing to me last summer. I had gotten a brand-new modem for phone and cable, and the phone part was not working. They tried to refresh and adjust the signal to the modem several times remotely, but the phone would not connect. So they said they would have to send a technician out to look at the modem, and did not mention there would be a fee for the service call. But I did not think there would be one because the modem was brand new. The guy got the phone working, I got hit with a service fee, and when I called to complain they said there is always a fee when the tech has to come into the house. I mentioned that the modem was brand new, that they had tried and failed to fix it remotely, and that they had not told me there would be any charge for the service. I also said I would expect them to fix something brand new at no charge. They ended up refunding the fee after I explained this to a couple of different people. I learned my lesson about Comcast’s customer service and what to expect fee-wise. But not once did anyone suggest I needed to buy any type of service plan to cover the repair, so maybe that’s a new thing.

    1. I just realized that the modem you’re referring to was given to you by Comcast. So here they are trying to charge, what sounds like a new customer, for a service call on a piece of new equipment they gave you! Nice…. Oh.. We’ve been using Magic Jack Plus for a while now and really like it. Best feature? NO cable company to deal with and SO much cheaper!

      1. Actually, I am a long-time customer of theirs, my old modem had broken and I had to pick up the new one at one of their stores in person or be subjected to a $10 shipping fee. Which makes it worse, I think.

        1. You should consider buying your own modem…I bought a modem/router combo (Zoom 5350) 3 years ago for around $110 and it works great. And with Comcrap renting out stand alone modems for $7/month it’s definitely paid for itself.

          1. Agreed. There is no good reason, not even a bad one, to rent a modem from Comcast. Buy your own modem and it will pay for itself very quickly.

          2. Just bought a very good quality one for well under $100. And it wasn’t even a cheap no-brander.

    2. Yeah, they had some nerve trying to charge you to fix a modem THEY are renting to you. Esp since it’s a $70 modem that they rent for $7/month. God, I hate Comcast.

  6. I’ve dealt with Comcrap’s customer service more times than I can count. I honestly believe that they have the WORST customer service of ANY company I deal with. I switched to Verizon FIOS for my house, but I have a beach house on the Delaware coast where Comcrap is the only option. I have had more than my fair share of complaints with them, but this one is less than legitimate, IMHO.

    Everytime I have called tech support, after walking me through the obligatory steps (did you reset the modem? OK let’s try it three more times) and before scheduling the appointment, they have ALWAYS told me that if the problem is after the point at which the cable enters the house, there will be a charge. At that point they try to sell me their stupid tech support package. I always say no, and it turns out that the problem is ALWAYS on their end. Twice when the tech has come out they confirmed the problem was on their end, yet Comcrap billed me anyway for the service call. I now get a statement in writing before the tech leaves my house confirming that the problem was not mine.

    My most recent issue with Comcrap was pretty simple yet was a huge headache to resolve. At the aforementioned beach house we put the service on seasonal suspension during the winter months, paying about $12 a month which means we don’t have to return the cable box and resuming service doesn’t require a service call/reconnection fees. When I put the account on seasonal suspension Comcrap decided to bill me for a modem rental during the time the service was inactive. I should say that I have NEVER rented a modem from Comcrap because it would be moronic to pay $7/month when I can buy one for less than $100. So, despite never having been billed for the non-existent modem before, they decided to start billing me when I suspended service. I spent 30 minutes on online chat and another 30 minutes dealing with surly phone reps before they finally agreed to reverse the charge (after they said that the charge was non-existent, when it was on plain view on my PDF bills online). No one could explain to me why I would suspend service then decide to start renting a modem from Comrap.

    Sorry for the rant, but I HATE dealing with this company. Chris, I really hope that you take more cases with this company on. They are the poster child for what customer service should NOT be.

      1. I’ve had mixed results with the chat line. Sometimes they transfer me to a tech who does a good job and sometimes, not.

        Regarding the modem. You can google this, but I’ll tell you that for most modems, the administration console is on your browser at 192.168.111.1 or 192.168.100.1. This should connect you to a page that will display the quality of your connection and if there are any dropped channels (most high speed modems have about 6 download/upload channels) and the quality of the connection in db. You can then twiddle with your line and see if there’s any improvement in the signal/noise ratio.

        I bought a modem but returned it when I found that the one provided by comcast provided better performance. Sometimes it makes sense to buy equipment, but if the speed is changing as it does in recent years, it’s hard to keep up with old equipment. I’m considering taking my existing one in to get better performance with the next model set.

        Finally, here are two make it right codes:
        021433938334001 and 021433938334002. Call 866-671-5645 and give the id code and expedited support should assist you.

  7. Happened to me last year. I admit I never thought to ask if there was a service charge if the problem wasn’t their faulty equipment; there never was before. And I got the bill and wowee. I called and had a hard time getting it reversed so I did an online chat with screen shots and eventually did get it reversed. It was absolutely not an accident. If only 50% of the people they do this to shrug it off they make a significant amount of money. I looked into dropping them but weirdly enough it makes no financial sense to do so. I’d need a dish (I have no FIOS in my area) and then pay for internet independently and together it cost more than what I have now (plus the hassle of a dish). It’s disturbing for sure.

  8. I live in an area where Comcast bought all the wired competition, so its Comcast or Satellite and I have already been burned by Dish and when I compare the prices and features that are useful to me, Comcast has them beat on price hands down. Sadly, I still think they tend to me evil.

    I had a problem a while ago at least in my case Comcast was upfront about the service fee. However the problem was on their end, and they still insisted on charging me. Very annoying.

    1. That’s me, too. I either give up having more than a couple channels, have Comcast, or stick a dish on the side of the house.

  9. It has been many years since a phone company was responsible for any wiring issues inside the house. However, I do expect customer service/repair to help me troubleshoot a few things before scheduling the appointment. And I expect to be informed of any charges before agreeing to the visit. (I have service from another company who goes through a list with me before schedule a service visit.)
    The survey should not be about free, it should be about good customer service. By not advising the OP of the service charge for the repair visit Comcast fell down on the job. But it is rather unreasonable to expect service to be free of charge on equipment not owned by Comcast and not under warranty. But a company who does not advise of service charges before sending out a technician is ignoring basic elements of good customer service.

    1. I find it very hard to believe that there was no troubleshooting done over the phone. Every time I’ve called Comcast they have led me through several troubleshooting steps before scheduling a service call. And everytime before they schedule the service call (and I’ve probably had 5 service calls in the last 5 years), they inform me that if the problem is on my end there will be a charge to fix it. They then give me an opportunity to buy their insurance. This is akin to a rental car customer declining Roadside Service when they rent the car, hitting something which causes a flat tire, calling Roadside Assistance, then getting upset when there is a charge for it. Things cost money.

      1. I understand what you’re saying, but increasingly, companies view their cost of doing business as my expense, rather than theirs. Does the service visit cost money? Yes. Do I pay them money every month? Yes. It used to be that they took the expense of a service call out of the monthly fees I paid them. Now they expect me to fork over additional money. Fuel surcharges, baggage fees, licensing fees, fee caluculation fees; it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s always extra, it’s never disclosed clearly and cleanly up front, and we’ve been trained to accept that we should agree to pay for services whose true cost is sometimes not fully disclosed until the bill arrives. Perhaps Comcast clearly explained that the service visit would cost $40, and the OP is either lying or dense. But based on my experience, there’s a very real chance that they just tack $40 onto the bill of every customer who has a service call and see how much they can get away with.

        1. I don’t have Comcast so I went online and googled fees with them. It states in home visits have fees. It doesn’t give a price. So it makes me wonder if the OP did their homework BEFORE calling? They do offer a refund if you aren’t happy, so I am sure Chris’ contact with them fell under that. But for the OP to say there were not told. In this day and age, if you don’t check this out BEFORE committing, you are the one at fault.

        2. “But based on my experience, there’s a very real chance that they just tack $40 onto the bill of every customer who has a service call and see how much they can get away with.”

          Oh, I agree with you, they do try to tack on crap that is entirely undeserved. Then make it difficult when you ask them to remove the charges. It took multiple phone calls and eventually a visit to the local office to get everything corrected for me. The difference is that the problem was clearly on THEIR end. The OP freely admits that the problem was on her end. And it wasn’t a problem that was obscure or difficult; it easily could have been identified and rectified by a reasonable person making a reasonable effort.

          I’ve been dealing with Comcast for roughly 7.5 years. As far back as I can remember they’ve had the same policy and I always remember of being informed of it on the phone (which was always preceded by incessant, amateur troubleshooting). Why should the cable company take (and pass on to its customers in the form of higher rates) responsibility for customers who can’t be bothered to do even the most basic troubleshooting steps?

  10. Regardless of what you are told, the internal directive is that when an appointment is made a charge will be applied by the billing department. I was told this was the case by one of the representatives overseas. They count on most people to overlook the charge as they appear inconspicuously or have no time call the billing department. In fact, the repair fellow told me that they are commissionable for upselling. You need to keep a copy of the visit report and ensure that they write on the document that no charges apply. That way you will only have to waste 30 minutes on the phone telling the story to three levels. That ws my experience with their so called “educational fee”. Nice company, huh?

  11. You only have one phone? You never thought of swapping out a different phone to see if it worked?

    You never EVER thought of the cord? Just call the company and let them deal with? With that level of analytical thinking you are a sucker waiting to be parted from their money . . . .

    1. My mother in law went through something similar, and gave up when they started asking her to troubleshoot herself before sending a tech out. She was shocked that they would have her do something herself and then want to CHARGE her to send a tech! I asked her what she was expecting, this isn’t 1970! She said she wanted the full service she got back then.

      I offered to be the tech if she would pay me on the monthly basis the difference between what she paid in 1970 and now, and then convert to 2014 dollars. That ended the conversation. (We ended up replacing the $10 phone for another $10 phone and all was good.)

  12. This is typical Comcast. Is anyone surprised here? They just suck in so many ways. I can’t wait for the proposed merger with Time Warner to go through; just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, they will.

  13. Comcast has done this same thing to me in the past, they failed to disclose a service call fee and then the fee magically appears on my bill. When I called to complain all I had to do was send them a copy of the invoice given to me by the technician. The invoice didn’t have the fee on it so they waived it.

  14. Didn’t check the phone cord??

    That’s what we call a PEBKAC error.
    Problem exists between keyboard and chair.

  15. Utilities have never been responsible for any wires past the ones on the side of the house; charging for a truck roll and service charge if the problem is in your home’s wiring has been the standard for decades.

    That said, the phone rep should have had some standard boilerplate where they mention the possibility of a charge if the problem is not their fault; I know I hear it every time I call for a cable or phone tech.

    However, would the OP actually have refused the truck roll even if the boilerplate had been read out? Probably not.

  16. On a somewhat related tangent, my house has no “inside” wiring for phone service (what wasn’t originally installed in 1946 was very poorly done so it all bit the dust soon after I moved in).

    There is still a demarc box on the outside of the house, and when I reached out to the phone company about having it removed, the company said they would not do anything without an order for new service. Really? Even to just have it removed completely? I politely declined to take it any further and the box still sits idle on the outside…

    1. I tore mine off and set a ladder against the pole to cut the cord up there. Looks much better without that one cord.

  17. How can this person believe someone would come out for free? Why didn’t SHE ask if there would be a charge? She should have been charged because it was her own error, not one of Comcast’s. Amazing that she didn’t just pay the bill and chalk it up to her own mistake of not checking the cord.

  18. “Still, should you assume a technician will visit your home for free?”

    Just stunning anyone has to ask that question.

  19. “The problem he came out to address was actually something both I and the person on the phone should have thought to fix: the phone cord was broken.”

    She sounds like a real prize, this one.

  20. it’s odd that the technician didn’t give her a work order at the end of the appointment and tell her the price then. Comcast techs usually do (and are supposed to). It’s true though that on the phone they never tell you there will be a cost. If you ask, this is the answer: “If the problem is on our end, then you don’t pay. If it’s on your end, you do pay.” They ought to say this when you make the appointment, even if you don’t ask.

  21. Nobody should be charged for anything without disclosure. Ever. Dispute the charge, don’t back down even tho it’s a small amount of money.

  22. My internet service is from Cox and they have done a similar thing. After not being able to fix problems with my modem the telephone tech said they will have to send someone out, no mention of a charge. Tech came to my home, ended up replacing the modem with one he provided and told me that it was included in the extra service fee of my contract.

    Two months later I get a bill for the house call and fight it successfully. SIX MONTHS later I got a notice saying I owed them a trumped up cost for the modem, I could pay for it all at once or pay in arrears and a monthly rental.

    The only “paperwork” I ever saw was the charge on the bill, months later! Complaint to the BBB yielded wonderful results.

  23. Comcast offers some of the poorest trained personnel ever. Call at 10 AM, get one price or fix.
    Call at 10:10 (after being on hold for that long, and you get different information and charges or no charges. My neighbors all pay different prices for the same service. Depends on who sets it up. Call again at 10:45 and it is all new & different. We had no service for 3 days so I called for credit & got it. Plus our Internet service was increased with no prior notice so we got credit on that. The guy then offered a package (bundle) of 2 items, but then when he sent us over to a verifying number, it seems he added phone to the bundle and a new phone number. Called to complain and they said you can get the phone and not use it. WRONG! And I cannot keep my same number because Vonage told them the number was no longer portable. Plus no one ever mentioned there was also an $8 mo fee for the phone so we were not really saving much. All crazy goofed up info. Finally got hold of a friend’s bill and spoke to a supervisor. In the end we saved $20 plus our 3 day credit plus got free HBO for 3 months trial. My friend with the same bundle of two not three items got 3 trials of Showtime, HBO and Starz and a reduced rate on Internet. You have to keep at it with Comcast to get what you want not whatever promo the sales person feels like giving you. It is the most cocked up service (or lack of service) we have ever seen. You watch Infinity and the sound goes on and off. You watch something you “taped” and again the sound is inconsistent, back it up and voila! there is the sound again. When programming you can start something later than the start time (like when football season is on and that screws up schedules) You can only start and stop when their settings permit. Really preferred the way TIVO worked but since our development pays for some Comcast, we are stuck. Anyway, there is no reason neighbors should be paying different amounts for the same service. And they need to train their staff better so they know what they are talking about.

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