back to article How long is a lifetime? If you’re Comcast, it’s until a rival quits a city: ISP 'broke' price promise

Maintaining its hard-won reputation for being one of the most-hated companies in America, Comcast has seemingly redefined the meaning of the word “lifetime” – and received a lawsuit in response. Brian Baker has sued the cable giant in Utah for, it is alleged, going back on its promise to give him a “lifetime” price lock after …

  1. The Man Who Fell To Earth
    WTF?

    "Lifetime"

    "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." - Inigo Montoya (Spanish fencer, henchman to Vizzini, Dread Pirate Roberts (successor to Westley) and now Comcast's new lawyer)

    1. Imhotep

      Is It Wise

      If your death would void a "lifetime" deal with ComCast.......

      1. A K Stiles

        Re: Is It Wise

        Goodnight Westley, I shall probably kill you in the morning.

        1. Evil Scot

          Re: Is It Wise

          I guess Comcast just rebooted the contract anew. New contract, new lifetime.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lifetime warranty

    I am always curious about products such as routers and switches that come with a lifetime (or limited lifetime) warranty. I almost expect that if it fails and I go back to the vendor, they will just tell me that "well its dead isn't it, its lifetime is over. No warranty for you matey!

    1. kmedcalf

      Re: Lifetime warranty

      3Com used to have a "lifetime" warranty on their 3C509 ethernet cards. If you had one that failed and went to all the bother of returning it to 3Com they would indeed send you another one -- often a whole box of them. Of course, what you paid for shipping usually ended up costing more than if you just went to the local shop and bought a new one -- plus the shop usually had them in stock so you could get the replacement the within the hour -- rather than having to wait several days or a couple of weeks for the shipping and processing.

    2. Evil Harry
      Pint

      Re: Lifetime warranty

      My understanding (which may well be wrong) was that a limited lifetime warranty was valid from the time of purchase until the date the vendor declared end of sale/end of life dates for the item in question. In otherwords, the lifetime of the product, not the lifetime of the individual who bought it :)

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Lifetime warranty

        "not the lifetime of the individual who bought it"

        Could work out better in some circumstances:

        "Hey, our network card has failed, can we get a replacement"

        "Where's Alex?"

        "Alex was run over by a last week I'm afraid, I've taken over"

        "No replacement for you then sorry, it's too late"

        "It's only six months old!"

        "Lifetime means lifetime pal"

    3. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Lifetime warranty

      I needed to set up a rack of systems to help support some software, but had no official budget for an install in my local lab, so I rummaged about in our stores for some adequate but long-EOL boxes that weren't being used. Along with them I found some unused HP "ProCurve" GB switches that had been bought many years before (we've been acquired between times, so my current company wasn't even the one that bought them). I racked them all up and used them for a year, then we had a power cut, and the switches failed to restart afterwards.

      I had no budget to replace my unofficial rack setup, but discovering that ProCurve had a "lifetime" warranty, I called HP support to see if they'd do anything. To my very pleasant surprise they said "sure, we'll replace them". They did exactly that (at their expense, shipping included), and the replacements have been humming away happily for years.

      I know, it's unfashionable to say nice things about HP, but kudos to them, they do respect their lifetime warranty agreement.

      1. The Original Steve

        Re: Lifetime warranty

        Been a big fan of ProCurve switching for years and years. Must have deployed a few hundred of them across multiple clients.

        I've found them to be very reliable, but I've called on their Lifetime warranty twice and both times had the same experience as you. Free, fast and hassle free.

        Shame pretty much everything else HP/HPE is utter dog shite.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lifetime warranty

        The HPE warranty check typically displays the end of warranty about 100 years from the date of manufacturing.

        My experiences are very similar to you, though I remember HP stating that for 4000m modular switches (ancient stuff) they would ship replacement cooler for free only one time. The switches had been working for 15 years until then and another 15 afterwards was very unlikely for such noisy Fast Ethernet stuff with only a couple gigabit interfaces.

        There's also a fleeting chance that you'll receive something much more modern when that 10base-T switch finally dies...

      3. Rockets

        Re: Lifetime warranty

        Procurve's lifetime warranty is as long as the original owner owns them. I've had HP replace an ancient Procurve switch with newer models. All the years I worked at a company where we supplied and supported Procurves I struggle to remember many failures at all. Work for a company where we use Cisco. They have some models that have Limited Lifetime Warranties that extends till the Last Day of Support date that Cisco sets, typically 5 years after End Of Sale. I've tried to use this in the past and I'm yet to succeed in getting Cisco to replace any failed switches under their LLW, TAC just claims that I need to contact the reseller as I don't have SmartNet and the reseller says contact TAC round and round we go.

    4. SVV Silver badge

      Re: Lifetime warranty

      It was a lifetime warranty. They were just assuming that you bought the subscription for your pet hamster.

      1. Ken Shabby Bronze badge

        Re: Lifetime warranty

        Parrots can live for 60 years, sometimes. Could make for an amusing discussion.with the salesman

        1. Grooke

          Re: Lifetime warranty

          For once it would be the salesman claiming:

          "'E's not pinin'! 'E's passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! 'E's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! 'E's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'e rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed 'im to the perch 'e'd be pushing up the daisies! 'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory! 'E's off the twig! 'E's kicked the bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!"

    5. Wade Burchette Silver badge

      Re: Lifetime warranty

      I was recently told that my Teamviewer lifetime license would soon be invalid. But I could continue to use Teamviewer if I switched to their new monthly rate plan. Turns out, their definition of lifetime meant as long as they supported the version. Since this is how they treat their customers, I will not switch to their monthly payment option. I would have been willing to pay a HUGE discount for an upgrade. Teamviewer lost a customer and recommendations.

    6. Ian Emery Silver badge

      Re: Lifetime warranty

      The last time I fell for a life time warranty con, it broke (I say broke, the damned router MELTED), after 4 years.

      When I tried to get it repaired/replaced, they claimed the warranty was only for "The expected life span of the item" which they claimed was 3 years.

    7. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Lifetime warranty

      Indeed.

      Although since I've had nothing but bad experiences with warranties, I long ago stopped paying them any attention whatsoever.

  3. JustWondering
    Meh

    Nothing new

    Last time I looked, one of the local telecoms was offering unlimited data plans. Turns out they have a different idea of "unlimited" than most people.

    1. DontFeedTheTrolls Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Nothing new

      unlimited unlimited* data plans

      *subject to fair use which we aren't going to define upfront, so very much limited

      "unlimited", like "infinity", does not exist on a numerical scale. There is no value you can add or subtract from unlimited that changes the value of unlimited. Unlimited is not subject to limits, this needs to be clarified once and for all in the Courts.

      1. Donn Bly

        Re: Nothing new

        They say it is unlimited -- they just don't say how FAST you will get it.

        Kind of like those "unlimited fries" or soft drinks at a restaurant. Your first refill might be quick, but after two or three they seem to get much, much slower.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Nothing new

          LOL. Unlimited refills for the expensive cup at Six Flags? Sure, BUT....

          There are literally only a few refill stations in the ENTIRE park, and the machines are out of syrup half the time and there is a line about 30 minutes long. I am not kidding...

  4. sbt Silver badge
    Alert

    Free markets are great.

    I'm not sure folks appreciate the sheer amount of resistance to lobbying, regulation and enforcement required to create and maintain them, though.

    Meanwhile, Comcast seem to defy the received wisdom that reputation and revenue are somehow linked. Proof of market failure/monopoly situation, perhaps?

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: Free markets are great.

      Exactly. Free markets are good, as competition is increased and the prices are lowered. A monopoly breaks that, and is not in the interest of the public (and the customers), so in many places rules exist to stop that from happening. In some countries it is less well enforced than in others, and in some countries the regulator is actively deconstructing any rules of this sort that existed. No wonder that they favour big money, in order to end up high up there in politics you have to be crazy rich (it seems from the outside)

      1. Any other name

        Re: Free markets are great.

        Free markets are good, as competition is increased and the prices are lowered.

        That is only true for a market which is infinite in size and has a negligible cost of entry. One can easily imagine a situation where the upfront cost of entry, in terms of the investment needed to compete, exceeds the potential rewards, which are limited by the size of the market and the cost of production for the incumbents. In this situation, the market may be as free as you wish, but the prices will remain exactly at the point where entering it makes no economic sense - and no lower, even if the cost of production is much below the selling price.

        Sounds familiar?

        1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

          Re: Free markets are great.

          "investment needed to compete, exceeds the potential rewards"

          Which means that any original investment business case was flawed, or that it was accepted on the basis that the only possible model for making a profit on it is either by being fraudulent or, "legally tricksy" - as we constantly see in the cases involving companies such as Comcast, AT&T etc.

        2. Donn Bly

          Re: Free markets are great.

          The cost of production will always be lower than the selling price. The difference is made up of profit. If there was no profit, there would be no reason for them to offer the service in the first place.

          Would you start a business painting houses if the only thing you could charge was the cost of the paint?

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Free markets are great.

            "If there was no profit, there would be no reason for them to offer the service in the first place."

            Unless, like Uber and similar, you can BS enough VC that you can afford to take huge losses for years while you undercut and attempt to destroy your competition.

    2. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Free markets are great.

      It's certainly a monopoly in my neck of the woods -- Comcast is the only broadband provider available to me.

  5. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    dirtbags

    Yup Comcast really are a bunch of dirtbags. Hopefully some of these people kept a copy of their contract, because I'm quite sure (allegedly) that they'll find the company's copy of the contract will have magically updated to have no mention of "lifetime" even if the one they agreed to did.

  6. DougS Silver badge
    FAIL

    "While the actual cost of supplying their services goes down"

    On what planet does the article author live? The cost to provide TV is increasing far faster than the rate of inflation, because networks keep asking more for their channels every year. In just over 2 years the local channels (which are broken out on my cable bill) have gone from under $8 a month to over $15 a month. ESPN's channels are nearly $10 a month now, they were half that 5 or 6 years ago.

    The cost of providing internet may be going down, but that is in no way shape or form true for providing TV. Anyone claiming otherwise has zero clue what the hell they're talking about.

    Not defending Comcast here, if they offer "lifetime" price lock that's on them to provide it even if they make less money on it every year. They should be forced to continue offering him that price for as long as they offer TV & internet service in his market.

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: "While the actual cost of supplying their services goes down"

      Unless the contract specifically spilts out the costs as yours does and then keeps the internet charge constant, the lifetime price should be kept.

      If the contract states its lifetime (for example 24 months) then their free to change prices after that point.

      But if the contact doesn't expire, the cost is bundled into one cost and they promise 'lifetime' at said cost, I would expect it to stay the same.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lifetime in their eyes will be the lifetime of the product not of the person or contract (which will probably now after 3 years be monthly?), no doubt they have discontinued the product and created a new identical one, thus its life is up so new price.

    1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

      Maybe, but a contract is legally binding at both ends so I'm assuming that (A) the contract would need to contain some legal confetti to explain termination or expiry conditions, or (B) at the very least Comcast would need to contact the customer to agree a change to those terms.

      Small print terms buried down on page 14 of an agreement such as "we retain the right to change terms or cancel/revoke/withdraw services at any point without notification" generally don't stand up in court.

      But this is the US legal system right? So anything could happen.

  8. FrogsAndChips Silver badge

    "there needs to be at least 100 people affected with damages exceeding $5m"

    How do you assess damages on a $10 per month increase? You can't just take 1 month's fee as a basis, but what period should you consider? 1 year, 5 years, how long you've already been a customer for?

    1. Killfalcon Silver badge

      Re: "there needs to be at least 100 people affected with damages exceeding $5m"

      There are actuarial methods for figuring it out - you can put a static value on $10 a year forever, if you make assumptions about inflation - I made the mistake of trying one of their exams once and it was very clever math that just refused to stay inside my head long enough to pass. ;)

      More likely they will pick a sensible-sounding number of years and use that, and if the case wins then they get to have a separate argument over the exact calculation in order to determine the final award. There are likely precedents in other cases that can be looked at - this may even be why Comcast want this in a federal court, as there could be differences in the normal damage calculation methods.

  9. david 12 Silver badge

    My mapping device has 'lifetime' map updates. When I read the documentation, I find that the "lifetime" of the device ends when they stop providing map updates...

    1. Vector

      This could be an example of something that REALLY annoys me. Was the "lifetime updates" on the outside of the box while the definition was inside?

      Reminds me of the old shrinkwrap software dodge: "Opening this box indicates that you accept the license agreement." The agreement that you couldn't review until you'd opened the box...

      1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        And such agreements are automatically unenforceable in law in the UK. It is simply not possible to enforce ANY contract term which was not made known prior to entering into the contract.

        Hence, with these shrinkwrap licences, you have teh absolute right to return the product for a refund if - after opening it and getting access to the terms - you are not happy with terms including in the licence contained within. The shop/whoever can NOT refuse to take the product back with the "sorry, you've broken the seal" excuse.

  10. Jay Lenovo Silver badge

    Problem solved, Get the Portal Gun

    "There's an infinite number of realities Morty, and only in a few dozen of those, does Comcast keep their promises."

    -Cable Rick

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Problem solved, Get the Portal Gun

      R: and what we're going to do is BRRRRRRReak into the cable box and hack it so that it only shows telenovas or CNN.

      M: How will that help us?

      R: It *wont'* help us, this is Jerry's cable box. *I* don't watch primitive Earth cable, I only watch interdimensional cable on a box that due to some minor enhancements doesn't show up on any billing systems and that doesn't block any channels.

  11. gnarlymarley Bronze badge

    Comcast’s actions, that no one should ever believe a single thing the corporation says.

    Or believe anything that a salesman says. They like to talk big and Comcast and other companies are refusing to honor what their salesmen say.

  12. Dropper

    It definitely doesn't mean what you think it does

    Even if you can get a corporation to admit they used the word "lifetime" on a cable/internet contract, they'll quickly refer you to the small print definition.

    "Lifetime contract" generally means the lifetime of the contract - which can be any length of time they want it to be.

    Guarantee that even if they did use the word on a written contract, there will be small print definition that explains that as soon as the company decides to cancel or change the contract, it's "lifetime" is over.

    The tech world is always using this word and it always means the lifetime of the product, not the lifetime of the person buying it. The usual time frame for "lifetime" warranties is 2-5 years.

    Other industries do the same thing. Your "lifetime" warranty on a mattress is usually about 10 years, but can be 20. Your lifetime warranty on a vacuum cleaner is normally 5. Hard disks 3. I've yet to hear of a product whose warranty ends when you die.

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