Comcast modem upgrade acts like a computer virus email; some complain about surprise fees

Comcast says thank you -- but thank you for what?
Comcast says thank you — but thank you for what?

While Comcast is pushing new modem/router gadgets at subscribers around the country, some consumers are complaining that they are being tricked into ordering new modem/routers that come with a monthly fee.  Also, in many cases, customers who simply click on a link in an email to learn more information about the upgrade are automatically signed up for the new modem and fee.

WilliamsComcastEmailComcast users took to the Internet to warn each other about the computer-virus-like character of the emails from the cable giant.

“Be cautious clicking on that link,” wrote one. “I did … and automatically, immediately, the request was generated that initiated a package be sent to my address. I did not have a chance to read any terms, or get any notice if there would be changes to my account.”

Reader William Funkhouser, of Illinois, said the email he received from  Comcast suggested the modem upgrade would be free, and he was angry to discover an $8 monthly fee added to his account.  He provided a copy of the email he received, which read in part:

“Recently, we increased the speeds of some of our popular Internet tiers at no additional cost to you. Our records indicate that your cable modem needs to be upgraded in order to ensure you’re getting the most out of your XFINITY® Internet service. To ensure you’re receiving the full benefits included with your service, we want to replace your existing modem with a Wireless Gateway free of charge,” it said.

“Nowhere in the original email does it reference an $8 monthly lease fee,” he said. “Also turns out there is an installation charge (of $160).”

While other consumers are complaining about lack of fee disclosure, the email I personally received from Comcast made the fee quite clear (“NOTE: Applicable equipment charges apply when leasing a modem from Comcast.”)  I can confirm the click-and-you’re-in problem, however.  After merely clicking on the link for more information, the following message appeared on my account:

“Great news! You have already placed an order to upgrade your current modem. Your order will be processed in approximately 24-72 hours and, if eligible, your easy to use self-install kit will be automatically shipped in approximately 2 to 4 weeks.”

When I chatted with a Comcast customer service agent about this, I was assured that the shipment had not actually occurred, and I had nothing to worry about.

“As I have verified on your account indeed you are using your own modem, you are not paying any equipment charges,” said the agent, who gave the name “Hazel.

Also I have double checked that no pending shipment of any modems will be sent to you Robert. I assure you that. With this, I highly recommend you to disregard on any email you received about this please.”

You probably guessed I wasn’t satisfied with that answer. When I pressed about new equipment message still on my account page, Hazel reassured me.

“You no longer need to do anything from your end for this. So you can just feel completely relax now. I can definitely guarantee you that.”

Other Comcast users have been less lucky.

“I just had an interesting experience with the message regarding switching my modem,” wrote one. “I clicked the link under the instructions for ordering a new modem, expecting some further explanation of why and what it meant — perhaps to validate whether there would be a new monthly charge for the gateway. So, here’s my advice: DON’T CLICK ON THE LINK UNDER “How to get your replacement modem” UNLESS YOU INTEND TO ORDER IT.”

And another:

“I guess I could be next. When I visit “deviceupgrade” now, instead of see a form to be filled out, I’m getting: Great news! You have already placed an order to upgrade your current modem.”

Emails to Comcast media relations were not immediately returned; I’ll update you as soon as I hear from them.  On one website devoted to the problem, a representative who appears to be from Comcast offers the following explanation.

“We are working to ensuring each of our customers are able to receive the High Speed Internet service that they have subscribed to. Those customers that have legacy cable modems and are not able to achieve their subscribed speeds are offered an opportunity to upgrade their modems at no additional charge. We’ve tried to make the enrollment process to this program as easy as possible but we realize this may have created some confusion. We are updating our sites on a regular basis and we will be making additional updates in the coming weeks to help customers with the upgrade process. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

The initial email from Comcast
The initial email from Comcast

What’s really going on? You have probably heard that Comcast/Xfinity is hard at work turning everyone’s home WiFi network into a hotspot that can be used by any Comcast customer walking by. That’s how Comcast can advertise that it has millions of hotspots.  Everyone involved assures consumers that there is no security threat from this, and no bandwidth costs, because the devices Comcast is using to provide the hotspots work independently from the WiFi router part of the gadget that works in your home.  Still, if that’s as uncomfortable sounding for you as it is me, you can turn this “feature” off. 

Comcast is telling folks they need new modems in order to take advantage of improved network speeds. That’s partly true. But the firm is also nudging….let’s call it shoving, actually….people to replace old modems with new modem/Wi-Fi router combo boxes they may not need.  And it is sometimes charging folks a monthly leasing fee for the box. And, as in Funkhouser’s case, it is occasionally collecting installation fees.

What should you do with Comcast’s letter?  If your modem needs to be upgraded, buy your own, of course, for $50-$100.  Keep using your old WiFi box.  And for now, don’t click on any links in Comcast emails while the firm sorts out the trouble.

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About Bob Sullivan 1648 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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