Government

New Jersey Board of Public Utilities Investigating Comcast's Overcharges

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TRENTON, NJ – You may be paying more than you should for cable television service.

The state Board of Public Utilities is investigating to what extent Comcast overcharged its New Jersey cable customers for the most basic level of TV service.

Comcast spokesperson Jennifer Bilotta said the company is cooperating with the investigation.

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Comcast’s headaches began last year when it hiked the cost of its “limited basic” television package by 47 percent for some customers. It raised the price by adding a $9.95 “High Definition technology fee” to the price of the $21.10 package, but didn’t file any notice of the price increase with regulators.

Prices posted to the Comcast website didn't reflect the new fee, either.

The price increase came as authorities have been easing cable TV regulation for years. The Federal Communications Commission has not regulated any rates since 1999, according to John Reinert of the state’s Board of Public Utilities, of which the state’s Office of Cable Television is part.

The state continued to regulate the rate of basic service for all municipalities until December, Reinert said, although the rate in some municipalities – such as Raritan Township – continued under regulation until March.

But regulated or not, some customers couldn’t get the $21.10 package listed on the Comcast website. In response to a complaint filed with the BPU, Comcast wrote to a customer in December, “The High Definition Technology fee is a standard fee billed to customers who possess High Definition equipment to enable access to high definition service.”

The company maintained that stance as recently as May 14, when it agreed to waive the fee for one customer as a “service discount” for a limited time. Bilotta said Comcast has since issued a credit for those overcharges.

The company says only a small percentage of customers receive the “limited basic” package and is taking steps to correct the overbilling. That includes improved training for the company’s customer service representatives.

According to Reinert, the company can generally charge whatever it wants for the service, provided it gives 30 days advance notice to the BPU.

Bilotta said that in addition to the BPU investigation, Comcast has launched its own inquiry into the overbilling. She didn’t know how long that process would take, but said any customer who has been overcharged will automatically receive a credit on their bill for the excess. She encouraged customers with questions about their billing to phone the company's toll-free customer service for clarification.

Customers who aren't satisfied with Comcast's responses can file a complaint with the BPU. Complaints can be filed online at the Office of Cable Television website or by calling 800-624-0331.

The “limited basic” package mostly includes only the broadcast channels, listed below. The chart was provided by the BPU.

1

2/802*

WCBS

CBS

 

2

4

WNBC

NBC

 

3

5/805*

WNYW

FOX

 

4

6/808*

QVC

HOME SHOPPING

 

5

7/807*

WABC

ABC

 

6

8

TCN

COMCAST NETWORK

 

7

9/809*

WWOR

UPN

 

8

10/561/795

WXTV

WXTV-41-UNIVISION

 

9

11/811*

WPIX

WB

 

10

12/812*

WHYY (GENERAL) **

PBS

 

11

13/813*

WNET

PBS

 

12

14/798

WNYE

WNYE

 

13

15/799

WPXN ION

ION

 

10

16

WTFX (GENERAL) **

WTFX (GENERAL)

 

14

17

WPSG (HILLSBORO)

WPSG (HILLSBORO)

SHARED CHANNEL

14

17

WLIW (LONG HILL)

WLIW (LONG HILL)

SHARED CHANNEL

15

18/806*

HSN

HOME SHOPPING

 

16

19/804*

WMBC

WMBC - 63

 

17

20/565/796

WNJU

WNJU

 

18

22/129/800*

WFUT

WFUT

 

19

23/129/800*

WNJN

WNJN

 

20

25

WRNN

WRNN

 

21

26/1217

C-SPAN

C-SPAN

 

22

27

ED TV

EDUCATIONAL TV

 

23

28/810*

WLNY

WLNY

 

24

29

ACCESS

LOCAL ACCESSS

 

25

51/291/1318

EWTN

EWTN

 

26

88

HSN 2

HSN 2

 

27

98

SHOP NBC

SHOP NBC

 

28

99

JEWELRY

JEWELRT TV

 

29

199

C-SPAN 2

C-SPAN 2

 

30

251

WASA-LD

WASA-LD

 

31

280

COMCAST COMMUNITY

COMCAST COMMUNITY

 

32

281

ACCESS

LEASED ACCESS

 

33

287

DAYSTAR

DAYSTAR

 

34

294

THE WORD

THE WORD

 

35

295

INSPIRATION

INSPIRATION

 

*HD channels

** shared channels

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