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7/31/2007
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Comcast, County Clash Over Billing Dispute Policy

Montgomery County officials are concerned that the cable company's arbitration policy limits consumer action including class action litigation against Comcast.

Comcast's new policy of seeking arbitration for the resolution of billing disputes has drawn fire from officials in Montgomery County, Maryland.

County officials warned subscribers last week to review their July cable bill and be on the look out for Comcast's arbitration policy. Montgomery officials believe the wording in the contract can limit consumer action including any class action litigation against Comcast.

"Comcast's unilateral action to change the subscriber agreement, with an artificial 30-day deadline, is simply anti-consumer," said County council member Duchy Trachtenberg in a statement. County executive Isiah Leggett said: "Vendors should not change the terms of service without first receiving the consent of the consumer, and the fact that Comcast has not done this is disturbing."

A Comcast statement issued this week defends the policy change. "Comcast strives to resolve customer concerns quickly, without the need for arbitration or litigation. That said, arbitration has been a part of Comcast's terms and conditions of service for several years throughout our various service areas. Arbitration is generally a faster, less formal and less expensive process to resolve disputes than litigation."

This is not the first time that Comcast and Montgomery County leaders have clashed. In February, the County whose boundaries include cities like Rockville and Gaithersburg fined Comcast $12,281.84 for not answering the phone quickly enough.

Now, Montgomery County officials are asking consumers to opt-out of the new arbitration policy in order to keep their rights.

Comcast has provided a form for users to opt-out of the arbitration provision.

It was not immediately clear whether Comcast had issued the arbitration policy measure throughout its U.S. footprint. However, in addition to Maryland, users in Massachusetts and Colorado said they have received notices from Comcast outlining the new arbitration policy.

In addition to basic cable services, Comcast delivers IP phoning and Internet broadband to some 24 million homes in the U.S.

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