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FCC’s Wheeler to Consumers: Contract Dispute TV Blackout? You’re On Your Own

Wheeler

Wheeler

The Federal Communications Commission has decided it won’t get too involved in the increasing number of contract renewal disputes between TV networks and cable TV providers, and has refused to issue new rules governing what represents “good faith negotiations” in disputes that take channels off the lineup.

“Based on the staff’s careful review of the record, it is clear that more rules in this area are not what we need at this point,” said FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler. “It is hard to get more inclusive than to review the ‘totality of circumstances.’  To start picking and choosing, in part, could limit future inquiries.”

A growing number of disputes over the rising cost of video programming frustrate pay-TV customers who find strident messages about nasty programmers or greedy providers blocking their favorite channels after contract renewal talks fail. Cable operators, sensitive about cord-cutting, want to keep price hikes down. Wall Street and shareholders expect growing revenue from charging providers for access to programming, which has become a major revenue source for most. Wheeler wrote Congress had good intentions to put a stop to contract disputes that eventually affected the public:

Congress, in Section 325 of the Communications Act, sought to reduce the likelihood that TV viewers would face this roadblock. The law requires broadcasters and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) to negotiate for retransmission consent in good faith. Congress gave the Commission the authority to keep an eye on these negotiations, and our rules include a two-part framework to determine whether broadcasters and MVPDs are negotiating in good faith.

  • First, the Commission has established a list of nine objective standards, the violation of which is considered a per se breach of the good faith negotiation obligation.
  • Second, even if the specific standards are met, the Commission may consider whether, based on the totality of the circumstances, a party failed to negotiate retransmission consent in good faith.

In the recent STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014 (STELAR), Congress expressed concern about the harm consumers suffer when negotiations fail and sought-after broadcast programming is blacked out on their pay TV service. STELAR directed the Commission to initiate a rulemaking to consider possible revisions to our “totality of the circumstances” test.

Everyone has a different opinion of what represents “good faith” and many of these disputes quickly get acrimonious. Or worse. Take the one-month-and-counting little hatefest between Tribune Media and DISH Network also known as Satan’s Mother-in-Law v. the Zika virus. Tribune blacked out DISH customers’ access to 42 local channels in 33 markets, including WGN Chicago, WPIX New York and KTLA Los Angeles back in June. Many are major network-affiliated over the air stations. The dispute, as usual, is over money. Tribune wants DISH to bundle WGN America, a low-rated basic cable network, with its Tribune-owned stations, as a condition for renewal.

dish dispute

WGN America has little to do with WGN-TV, the over-the-air independent former superstation based in Chicago. As of late 2014, WGN America runs a vastly different schedule of syndicated sitcoms, drama series and feature films, and some first-run original television series produced exclusively for the channel. Long gone are local, syndicated, or sports shows that a viewer in Chicago would see watching channel 9 over-the-air. As a result, viewership of WGN America is 20% less than the former WGN-TV, and dropping. Many of the shows on WGN America also turn up on other cable channels, making the network a questionable addition to the lineup.

WGN America, not your father's Channel 9 from Chicago.

WGN America, not your father’s Channel 9 from Chicago.

DISH obviously has no interest in WGN America, but Tribune’s negotiators told them they better get interested, because WGN America will come along for the ride, part of any renewal for the over-the-air stations Tribune owns.

DISH is in no hurry to negotiate over the summer months, when shows are repeats and folks are on vacation. Many expect that will change once football season nears. But the battle continues anyway.

A new low was reached a few weeks ago when a frustrated Rev. Jesse Jackson claimed in an open letter that DISH’s refusal to negotiate was racist, in part because the blackout affected the show Underground, chronicling the Underground Railroad system that helped slaves escape to the northern free states.

“Is DISH using the same kind of math with ratings that the old south employed when enacting laws that counted African-Americans as three-fifths of a man?” wrote Jackson in a letter released by his Rainbow Push Coalition. “For far too long African-Americans have been underrepresented and unfavorably portrayed on television, silencing the significant contributions they have made to this country. Underground is a crucial part of a brand-new day of diversity on television that sheds a bright light on the bravery, ingenuity and power of the African-American experience, and is being used as teachable moments in homes and history classes around the nation at a time when we need it most.”.

Jackson

Jackson

DISH avoided taking the bait, responding, “We are skeptical that Rev. Jackson is truly interested in finding a fair deal for DISH customers.”

The FCC isn’t apparently interested in putting a line in the water either, steering clear of the controversy and allowing programmers and networks to continue to work things out with each other while customers watch repeating barker channels claiming none of this is the fault of their provider.

Wheeler points out he is aware of the DISH/Tribune dispute, but isn’t exactly rushing to end it.

“I summoned both parties to Washington to negotiate in coordination with Commission staff,” Wheeler wrote. “When that step failed to produce an agreement or an extension, the Media Bureau issued comprehensive information requests to both parties to enable FCC staff to determine whether they were meeting their duty to negotiate in good faith; we are reviewing their responses as I write. If that review reveals a dereliction of duty on the part of one or both parties, I will not hesitate to recommend appropriate Commission action.”

To DISH viewers, that represents a “definite maybe.”

At the end of last month DISH decided it wasn’t “good faith” when the Tribune subsidiary operating WGN America started running ads calling DISH a “dishgusting” company. Too much? Apparently so for DISH’s lawyers who filed a lawsuit.

“In a last-ditch bid to force DISH to accept its terms, DISH is informed and believes, and thereon alleges, that Tower created and broadcast, via its channels, disparaging content regarding DISH, its services and its performance,” states the complaint. “The campaign launched by Tower with these commercials cast DISH in an extremely negative light — Tower claims that DISH has not acted in good faith, that its performance and services are the worst in the industry, and even that DISH is a ‘disgusting’ company.”

Apparently, DISH maintains a disparagement clause in its old contract with Tribune, designed to stop nasty exchanges like this. Tribune called the lawsuit frivolous and the FCC today effectively called it a day.

New Charter Gets Tough With Time Warner/Bright House Employees: Happy Fun Time is Over

Here’s the corporate memo the folks at Charter just sent employees at Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. If you’ve seen the movie 9 to 5 with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton, let’s just say this is what the sequel would look like if Franklin Hart, Jr. escaped from the Amazon River natives that kidnapped him in Brazil and he reasserted his brand of autocracy in the office.

To summarize:

  • Get back to the office. Your job is being relocated to a “designated Charter office location” wherever that is. Work-at-home is a thing of the past unless you can find an executive vice president to sign off (good luck with that).
  • Wear your jeans at home, not around here. In fact, if you have any doubts about your ensemble, don’t show up at the office wearing it to find out.
  • Summer Hours are so yesterday. Get over it. It’s Monday through Friday, not Friday when you decide to leave.

Charter_logo

Sent to all employees at corporate office locations in Charlotte, St. Louis, Denver, Herndon, NYC and Stamford.

Charter will harmonize various work policies in the coming months, but I wanted to address specific employee questions regarding Charter’s practices at corporate locations. Here you will find immediate guidance on three areas:

Work Location:
9_to_5_moviepRemote work locations:
 All Charter employees will be co-located with their work group at a designated Charter office location. We will work with you and your departmental leadership on potential relocation if necessary. In the interim, anyone who manages people should travel and be onsite where the majority of their employees report for work, for the duration of the work week.

Work from home: Charter does not have a work from home policy. If you have been or sometimes work from home and you are assigned to work functions in these corporate buildings you should immediately begin to report to your work location every day. If you have a concern regarding this you should speak to your manager. In the interim, anyone who manages people should travel and be onsite where the majority of their employees report for work, for the duration of the work week. Any formal work from home arrangement must be approved by an EVP and must have time bound criteria.

Workplace Dress Policy:
Whether we service internal or external customers, employees in Charter’s corporate functions are all professionals by trade and the expectation is we look the part. We will provide a harmonized workplace dress policy in the coming months, however unless approved by an EVP for a specific department and location, jeans are not deemed professional attire. In advance of the policy, if you are in doubt as to whether your attire is appropriate, better to not wear it. If you are still in doubt as to what is appropriate, please see your immediate manager.

“Summer Hours”:
We recognize that this practice at Legacy TWC was in exchange for working additional hours, earlier in the week. However, this is a benefit that is not extended to employees whom our departments serve, the same employees who generate our revenue and provide service to our customers. Perception matters, and a different standard for “Corporate” employees is not consistent with the values we want to project to the much larger employee base who work regular shifts during the day, nights and weekends. We will continue to be flexible with our employees as needs or special situations arise, but a broadly applied Summer Hours policy will not be in place within Charter.

If you should have any questions or concerns please discuss with your manager or let me know.

Paul Marchand
Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer

Employees at Altice-owned SFR Smash Difficult Customer’s Phone Live on Periscope

SFR

This SFR retail store is part of the Altice telecom empire

Two customer service representatives at Altice-owned SFR, a wireless carrier in France, may not have understood that the video they broadcast over Periscope showing the destruction of a difficult customer’s cell phone wasn’t just for their friends’ viewing pleasure.

France is buzzing today about the wider release of the video, showing the two employees complain that despite the fact the customer’s phone was being repaired, “he’s breaking our balls this morning. You know what we’ll do to his phone?”

The miracle of Periscope, which let’s you “explore the world through someone else’s eyes,” means everyone watching quickly found out as they obliterated the smartphone by repeatedly throwing it to the ground.

Their evil plan, shared with countless viewers, was first to prove it was not a dummy phone they were destroying, and then claim it was the condition of the phone as it was received.

These two SFR employees apparently misunderstood that more than their friends would be watching Periscope as they destroyed a difficult customer’s cell phone. (French) (1:54)

broken phoneAfter the first 10,000 views of the video-that-went-viral, SFR’s damage control team moved in… to rescue SFR’s reputation. The company tweeted it had identified the culprits, (later independently identified as employees of the SFR shopping center in Villeneuve d’Ascq) and they would be “severely punished.” Within hours, both men were fired.

But customers of this Altice-owned operation consider it business as usual. As Altice continues to fight for approval of its acquisition of Cablevision, its largest wireless holding in France is fighting to to be taken seriously by its dwindling customer base.

On Wednesday, the French Association of Telecom Users (AFUTT) released its 2015 Report on Complaints and Customer Dissatisfaction, and no company disappointed more than SFR.

Despite repeated assurances from Altice and SFR-Numericable executives that things were improving, the report found the exact opposite. SFR-Numericable (the combination wireless and cable operator) was the subject of 36% of all complaints against all French telecom companies among Internet users, despite only having a 21% market share. It was the only telecom operator in France to further decline in the ratings, for a second year in a row.

“We can assume the acquisition of SFR by [Altice-owned] Numericable resulted in some initial disruptions to the quality of their service,” the AFUTT report speculates. “The first reports of this appeared in 2014 and have continued and grown in 2015.”

That may be bring pause to New Yorkers and state regulators currently reviewing Altice’s application to acquire Cablevision. Several consumer groups and unions have specifically called out the management methods of Altice founder Patrick Drahi as responsible for many of the problems, noting his demands for forcible cost cutting, squeezing supplies, and exasperating unions have caused many employees to depart.

39% of all complaints about telecom companies in France are directed against Altice-owned SFR-Numericable.

36% of all complaints about telecom companies in France are directed against Altice-owned SFR-Numericable, claims AFUTT.

Google Fiber’s Contractors Create Headaches for Austin Residents

Flash flooding in a neighborhood where storm drains were blocked by construction debris. (Image: Adolfo Romero)

Flash flooding in a neighborhood where storm drains were blocked by Google’s construction debris. (Image: Adolfo Romero)

Some Austin residents are fuming over the sloppy construction work and eyesores left by contractors hired by Google to install its fiber optic service.

Last year, 254 formal complaints were filed against Google and its contractors, by far the largest compared with AT&T and Time Warner Cable, which are also in the process of upgrading their networks in the city.

The epicenter of construction nightmares for homeowners is on Lambs Lane in Southeast Austin, where last October a flash flood allegedly caused by Google’s construction crews blocking nearby storm drains brought two feet of water into the home of Arnulfo and Dolores Cruz, causing $100,000 in damages.

HissyFitWatch: Cable Operator Shames Past Due Customers by Naming Them on Facebook

Phillip Dampier December 2, 2015 Canada, Consumer News, HissyFitWatch, Public Policy & Gov't 4 Comments

past dueA cable operator in Canada’s Northwest Territories doesn’t bother sending past due notices to customers in arrears anymore. It posts their names and amounts owed on Facebook instead.

Senga Services Cable TV is facing heat for posting its past due list publicly on several Facebook community pages, including the ‘Fort Simpson Town Cryer‘, naming and shaming customers including former Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Kevin Menicoche (who quickly called to make payment arrangements).

Jennifer Simons, who works with Senga Services, told CBC News she’s fed up with sad stories about why people won’t pay their cable bill.

“We always got excuses from everybody,” Simons said. “Promissory notes and everything, and it never arrives. So we found the most effective way is to publicly post the names.”

Customer reaction varied from supportive to swift and harsh condemnation. With the story going viral, Senga has restricted access to its own Facebook page.

“What a shotty [sic] disrespectful way to try and get people to pay,” wrote one reader.

fort-simpson-town-crierMost of the amounts owed are between $100-300, but one customer had managed to avoid paying an apparent court judgment of $1,406.80.

Michelle Léger, a Fort Simpson resident told the CBC the post “just wasn’t right.” With a population of just 1,200 in Fort Simpson, the list was sure to generate a lot of buzz in the community.

“If I had been a person on that list, I would have been really embarrassed,” she said. “It’s publicly shaming people. That’s kind of abusive to your customer base. Everybody knows who owes money to a cable company. So we know who is irresponsible with money or who might be struggling. If I were struggling to pay bills, I wouldn’t want my community knowing.”

Simons had none of that, doubling down in a follow-up message that people “should not live outside their means,” adding “maybe their family can step up and help them out.”

“We run a business, not a charity,” Simons explained. “We have bills to pay and paying customers who deserve to have services. Not paying your bill is stealing.”

MLA Menicoche told the CBC he was not embarrassed after appearing on the list, but complained he should have been contacted privately first.

Whether customers agree or disagree, the public disclosure does not appear to violate Canadian law.

According to Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, organizations may disclose personal information of an individual without their consent if “the disclosure of the information is necessary in order to collect a debt owed to the organization.”

Hilton Hotel Chain Fined $25,000 for Obstructing Investigation into Wi-Fi Blocking

The Hilton Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif. Come for the color but don't stay for the $500 Wi-Fi.

The Hilton Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif. Come for the color but don’t stay for the $500 Wi-Fi.

The Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau today announced a tentative $25,000 fine against Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Inc., owner of the Hilton Hotel Chain, for allegedly obstructing a FCC investigation into the blocking of consumers’ use of personal Wi-Fi while visiting hotel properties.

“Hotel guests deserve to have their Wi-Fi blocking complaints investigated by the Commission,” said Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC Enforcement Bureau. “To permit any company to unilaterally redefine the scope of our investigation would undermine the independent search for the truth and the due administration of the law.”

The regulator accuses Hilton of stonewalling requests for information and documents about how the hotel chain manages Wi-Fi for visitors and guests. In August 2014, the FCC received a consumer complaint accusing Hilton of purposely blocking visitors’ Wi-Fi hot spots on its property in Anaheim, Calif., to compel guests to pay a $500 fee to use Hilton’s own Wi-Fi network. The complaint was followed by others who alleged similar experiences with Hilton hotels elsewhere.

In most cases, fees of that amount are sought from vendors attending conventions and other large events held at Hilton hotels. Wi-Fi services can be a lucrative revenue generator, but not if vendors rely on company or personal cell phone hotspot services to bypass the hotel’s internal Wi-Fi network. Hilton hotels in the area generally offer Wi-Fi in rooms for prices ranging from free to $14.95 a night. The charges evidently vary depending on the promotion in effect when a room is booked. Fees for convention vendors are often dramatically higher, which seems to be the case surrounding this complaint.

In November 2014, the FCC issued Hilton a letter of inquiry seeking information concerning basic company information, relevant corporate policies, and specifics regarding Wi-Fi management practices at Hilton-brand properties in the United States. After nearly one year, the FCC alleges Hilton has effectively ignored the FCC’s request for the vast majority of its properties. Hilton runs hotels under the Hilton, Conrad, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, and Waldorf Astoria brands.

In the last two years, the FCC has made it clear it will aggressively pursue and fine those intentionally interfering with Wi-Fi signals, especially if a revenue motive is found. In October 2014, the FCC fined Marriott International, Inc. and Marriott Hotel Services, Inc. $600,000 for similar Wi-Fi blocking activities at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn. In August 2015, the FCC fined Smart City Holdings, LLC $750,000 for similar Wi-Fi blocking at multiple convention centers across the country. The Commission also recently proposed to fine M.C. Dean $718,000 for apparent Wi-Fi blocking at the Baltimore Convention Center.

HissyfitWatch: Witch Hunt – T-Mobile Declares War on “Abusive LTE Tethering”

heavy user

Burn Her! T-Mobile CEO John Legere announces a data hog crackdown.

T-Mobile’s CEO has declared war on about 3,000 current customers caught “stealing data from T-Mobile” by using workarounds to avoid T-Mobile’s tethering usage allowance.

T-Mobile customers with unlimited 4G LTE plans get a fixed allowance to be used for tethering when using the Smartphone Mobile HotSpot feature, which allows laptops, tablets, and other wireless devices to share a T-Mobile wireless data connection.

“These violators are going out of their way with all kinds of workarounds to steal more LTE tethered data,” said John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile USA. “They’re downloading apps that hide their tether usage, rooting their phones, writing code to mask their activity, etc. They are ‘hacking’ the system to swipe high-speed tethered data.”

Legere claims the “clever hackers are willfully stealing for their own selfish gain” and are running up as much as two terabytes of usage a month over T-Mobile’s network. Legere thunders he won’t allow this on his watch and the company is starting a campaign of countermeasures this week to go “after a small group of users who are stealing data so blatantly and extremely that it is ridiculous.”

Legere was not specific about how T-Mobile identifies customers it considers to be abusing its network, but a new FAQ on the carrier’s website explains what will happen to those deemed to be exploiting workarounds to exceed T-Mobile’s standard 7GB tethering allowance:

We’re first warning these customers that they’re illegally using more data than they bought. We hope folks will stop on their own so they can keep their current plan. These customers are on an unlimited 4G LTE smartphone plan that includes a set amount of Smartphone Mobile HotSpot data, but they’re using workarounds to make their tethering look like smartphone usage which helps them use significantly more 4G LTE tethering than their plan includes.

Customers who continue to do this will be warned, then lose access to our Unlimited 4G LTE smartphone data plan, and be moved to an entry-level limited 4G LTE data plan.

Legere

Legere

Legere is clearly concerned the crackdown could be interpreted by the Federal Communications Commission as a Net Neutrality violation.

“These abusers will probably try to distract everyone by waving their arms about throttling data,” Legere wrote. “Make no mistake about it – this is not the same issue. Don’t be duped by their sideshow. We are going after every thief, and I am starting with the 3,000 users who know exactly what they are doing. The offenders start hearing from us tomorrow. No more abuse and no risk to the rest of our customers’ experience. It’s over. If you are interested, you can find more info in our [FAQ].

The FCC has no rules prohibiting usage caps, but the issue of speed throttling is less settled and Legere’s comments are intended to frame the issue in terms of data theft and violations of the company’s terms and conditions.

Carriers are often less lenient with hotspot usage because desktop computers and laptops often consume much more data than portable handheld devices like tablets and smartphones. T-Mobile admits that customers who need to consume a lot of data should find another ISP:

[Wired] Broadband services would be a better solution for customers who need more high-speed for tethered devices.

Blow Your Usage Allowance With New Unlimited Pornhub Premium, the “Netflix of Porn”

pornhubThe unstated reality of Internet traffic growth usually leaves out what impact streaming pornographic videos can have on network traffic, and for consumers, their broadband usage allowance. We are about to find out with last week’s arrival of Pornhub Premium (noted by DSL Reports), a new on-demand Internet streaming service its owners believe will quickly become the “Netflix of porn.”

Pornhub Premium ($9.99/mo) “offers an all new ad-free experience to its users, complete with faster playback and higher quality streaming on the millions of videos currently on Pornhub as well as the largest collection of exclusive full length HD adult titles available in crisp 1080p resolution.” Customers get a free seven-day trial before the charges begin. They can use it to test what kind of impact HD video will have on their usage allowance. It could prove considerable for frequent return visitors.

“Simply put, Pornhub Premium, is setting the new standard. Users will benefit from enhanced access to all of the content they already enjoy on Pornhub.com – with improved streaming quality – as well as over 100,000 full-length premium exclusive scenes at the touch of a finger or click of the mouse,” said Corey Price, vice president, Pornhub. “We’re looking to take the crown as the ‘Netflix of porn,’ and with the colossal amount of content we’ll be providing – and adding tons more daily – we’re confident our fan base will totally embrace this product and reinforce our position as the top provider of on-demand adult video.”

Pornhub Premium's ad campaign has sparked an international incident. Cheese producers in Italy are not pleased.

Pornhub Premium’s ad campaign has sparked an international incident. Cheese producers in Italy are not pleased.

Or not.

The publicity campaign introducing the adult entertainment service has already caused one international incident. The Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese Consortium is weighing legal action against Pornhub after referring to their aged family friendly Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in the same sentence as “that vulgar website.”

The European Union and Italian authorities both protect the image of the consortium’s dairy products, so there could be trouble. The cheese group wants Pornhub to immediately stop capitalizing on the fame of Parmigiano-Reggiano to pitch “vile” porn videos.

The dispute threatens to become far worse than the Spaghetti Scandal of 1957, when Italian authorities were on fire after the BBC aired a hoax story suggesting spaghetti was harvested from trees. Adding to the outrage – many in northern Europe believed the report was true.

Then there are the other objections, of course.

“Pornhub Premium is unlimited filth and degradation, a new low,” came an anonymous comment from a Florida resident who claimed he was a pastor.

California Court Tosses Byron Allen’s Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Against Comcast, TWC

Allen

Allen

Citing tissue-thin evidence to prove the allegation Comcast and Time Warner Cable conspired to racially discriminate against minority-owned cable channels, a California judge dismissed a $20 billion lawsuit brought by Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios Networks.

Allen accused Comcast and Time Warner Cable of creating minority interest cable networks that were actually owned by white ex-cable executives and hedge fund operators. Allen charged Comcast with seeking to pass the minority networks off as fulfillment of a diversity agreement Comcast had with federal officials as a condition of approving the 2010 merger of Comcast and NBCUniversal.

Allen also claimed Comcast “brazenly stated that it does not want to create any more black billionaires, such as Bob Johnson, the African-American founder of Black Entertainment Television.” Allen also referred to Sharpton as “Comcast’s least expensive negro.”

Allen widened the list of defendants to include several minority groups that have close ties to Comcast, including Al Sharpton and his National Action Network, the NAACP, and the Urban League. All of the named defendants are regular promoters of Comcast’s ventures and business interests in letters to regulators.

U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter Jr. found Allen’s case less than compelling and dismissed it outright, ruling it lacked enough verifiable facts to show his court has jurisdiction over the defendants and lacked sufficient evidence to prove liability.

The ruling did not seem to bother Allen much.

“Knowing that our lawsuit helped the FCC and the DOJ deny Comcast’s bid to buy Time Warner Cable is already a big win for us,” said Allen in a statement. “We are going to immediately appeal this decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals who I believe will deliver us a favorable decision.”

Comcast and the other defendants called the lawsuit offensive, frivolous and outlandish.

Comcast’s Collection Calls Hound Woman for 9 Months Over $527 Bill She Already Paid

comcastA Philadelphia woman is suing Comcast after its collections department allegedly placed automated calls to her personal cell number once or twice a day for almost nine months to collect a past due cable bill she says was paid in 2011.

Kim Elder and her attorney Craig Thor Kimmel from Kimmel & Silverman, P.C., are seeking a refund for the per-minute cell charges incurred answering Comcast’s collection calls, damages of $500 per call for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), triple damages of $1,500 per call due to Comcast’s “malicious, intentional, willful, reckless, wanton, disregard” of Elder’s rights, as well as additional injunctive relief if the court finds Comcast’s actions egregious.

James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse - Philadelphia, Pa.

James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse – Philadelphia, Pa.

Elder’s lawsuit states the automated collection calls began in September 2014, always beginning with a pre-recorded announcement stating the call was originating from Comcast. The call would then be transferred to a collection agent seeking payment for a $527 cable television bill. The complaint states Elder paid that bill years ago and repeatedly asked Comcast to stop the calls, but claims they continued daily through at least mid-June of this year.

First enacted in 1991, the TCPA (among other things) regulates telemarketing calls, the use of automated equipment to make calls, use of automated or pre-recorded voices during calls and the means and manner of sending faxes. Ongoing clarifications by the Federal Communications Commission over the years have tightened the rules to close or curtail loopholes and give consumers easier ways to revoke consent for future calls.

A lawsuit decided earlier this month found Time Warner Cable liable to a Texas woman for almost $230,000 in damages for repeatedly calling the wrong number to reach another customer. Because part of the call was automated, and Time Warner did not stop the calls after being asked, a judge used damage provisions in the TCPA to heavily fine the cable company.

Elder’s case was filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia — home to both Elder and Comcast’s corporate headquarters.

Cases of this type are usually required to be designated for arbitration within the court system to guarantee a speedy civil trial if Comcast does not privately settle with Elder and her attorney.

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