Maryland investigates Comcast

June 09, 1994|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Sun Staff Writer

The Maryland attorney general's office is probing whether Comcast Corp. deceptively marketed a maintenance plan and an extra-channels package to customers in four counties, and the Philadelphia-based cable operator was accused of similar violations in lawsuits filed in eight other states yesterday.

At issue is whether Comcast violated regulations by automatically charging customers for optional services, such as its "CableGuard" maintenance plan and the "Value-Pak" extra-channels package.

Comcast spokesman David Nevins said the two services were routinely included in all of its Maryland cable bills until last year, when new regulations forced the company to start itemizing bills more fully and billing separately for the services.

New customers locally must specifically order the two services, Mr. Nevins said. Customers who have them because they began receiving cable before last year may cancel the disputed services. Value Pak costs 44 cents a month, and Cable Guard costs 33 cents.

Mr. Nevins said the company believes its practice is legal.

Lucy Weiss, the deputy chief of the attorney general's office's consumer protection division, said Mary land is among the states "looking into the matter," in addition to the eight who sued Comcast yesterday.

As part of a coordinated campaign, officials in Florida, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Connecticut, Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi, all sued Comcast, Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth told Bloomberg News Service. In addition to Maryland, three other states -- Michigan, Indiana and Delaware -- are probing the matter, he said.

Comcast has 2.9 million customers nationwide and runs cable systems in Baltimore, Harford, Howard and Wicomico counties in Maryland.

The Florida case seeks penalties of $10,000 per violation for practices that began last September, when the regulations took effect. Several hundred thousand Florida customers were charged $1.10 a month since September for the "Value Pak" and "CableGuard," a spokesman for Florida's attorney general said.

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