Who should replace rented cable equipment after a fire?




Posted on October 4, 2010 at 11:28 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 5 at 8:36 AM

LYNNWOOD, Wash. -- August 9. The LynnView apartments in Lynnwood burn.

"The alarm went off and, at first, I wasn't going to react to that," said resident Nancy Ovantes. "I didn't react first, but something told me to just go check."

Nancy was sitting in her fourth floor apartment.

"When I did go out the front door, my neighbors were frantically knocking on people's doors telling them to get out."

She did just that, leaving everything behind. In minutes, every precious item she owned was gone.

Nancy would rebuild her life.

"Thanks to help of my family, the community, friends and everyone, it's like slowly going to rebuild," she said.

She moved into an apartment in Edmonds. Soon after, she got a letter from Comcast saying she owes the company $80 for the cable box and $30 for her modem. Both were lost in the fire.

"Spoke to someone in customer service and he did tell me that I had to still return the equipment, the modem and box," she said.

On page 14 of the 49-page Comcast customer agreement it says, "You will be directly responsible for loss, repair, replacement and other costs, damages and fees" if a customer does not return an undamaged box.

"I wasn't trying to keep the equipment, I just couldn't return it," said Nancy.

"It's really hard to tell somebody who's lost everything, 'Oh, by the way, you have to pay us back for that equipment,'" said Steve Kipp with Comcast.

Steve feels for the victims of the fire, but makes a good point. The cable boxes and modems are owned by the company -- customers just lease it. Lost equipment costs the company millions of dollars.

"If we don't charge them for unreturned equipment, it just doesn't come back," said Steve.

The company suggests customers get renters insurance and that would have covered the loss. Many of the residents of the LynnView apartments just didn't have it. So if you didn't return the box and modem, you owe Comcast for the burned equipment.

"It's a really tough position for us to be in," said Steve.

So what should happen here? The company must recover its loss. The fire victims wonder why they should pay for an item they lost through no fault of their own. Who's right here?

Nancy is paying back Comcast for the boxes, but doesn't feel good doing so.
"I don't know. It just didn't seem right," she said.

However, after speaking with the company, Comcast is stepping up big time and dropping its return policy for the victims of the LynnView fire.

"There are times when we should exercise some discretion and look at things on an individual basis and I think this was one of those cases," says Steve.

People lose cable boxes and modems to fire and theft all the time. Should everyone get a break here? What about the company? Every lost box costs ends up costing customers more money in the end. So I want your opinion about Comcast's return policy. E-mail me or hit me on twitter at @getjesse. I'm going to take your questions to the people Comcast and air their answers Tuesday night.