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House OKs spending bill with reforms to end hidden pay-TV fees

CR praises effort to require cable and satellite providers to disclose total cost before consumers sign up for service 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Consumers would have an easier time spotting and avoiding hidden cable fees under reforms included in the spending bill approved today by the House, according to Consumer Reports.  The spending bill incorporates the Television Viewer Protection Act (HR 5035), which requires cable and satellite TV operators to disclose the total price, including all company-imposed fees, before a consumer signs up for a video package.  The spending bill now goes to the Senate and must be passed by December 20 to avoid a government shutdown.

“Cable companies shouldn’t be allowed to get away with advertising low prices while hiding extra fees in the fine print that cost consumers hundreds of dollars more each year,” said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports.  “Consumers deserve to know exactly how much they’ll end up paying before they sign up for a pay-TV package.  This legislation will put an end to bait and switch pricing and help consumers avoid getting stung by sneaky fees.”

HR 5035 requires pay-TV operators to disclose the total price, including all itemized charges, fees, and estimated taxes, before a consumer signs up for a video package, whether offered individually or as part of a bundled service.  Under the bill, consumers will have the right to cancel service without penalty within 24 hours after receiving notice of the total cost at the point of sale.  Pay-TV providers would be prohibited from charging consumers for equipment they do not use.

In October, Consumer Reports published an extensive report that documented that consumers pay, on average, $450 a year in extra company-imposed fees charged by cable and internet service providers.  Consumer Reports found that consumers are being charged equipment fees for routers and modems even if they choose to use their own devices.  In addition, some providers are starting to charge similar fees for internet access.

For many years, cable bills included a base package price, state and local taxes, and a few government-imposed regulatory fees that operators were allowed to pass on to consumers.  The price that consumers were billed largely reflected the advertised price.  But in recent years, cable companies have been charging a base rate plus a growing list of fees that go by terms like Broadcast TV Fee, Regional Sports Surcharge, HD Technology Fee, and Network Access and Maintenance Fee.

Michael McCauley, mmccauley@consumer.org, 415-431-6747, 7606