From $1.50 To $10 Per Month: How Comcast's Bogus Fees Are False Advertising
from the fees-and-surcharges-may-apply dept
For several years now cable and broadband providers have been using hidden fees to covertly jack up their advertised rates. These fees, which utilize a rotating crop of bullshit names, help these companies falsely advertise one rate, then sock the consumer with a significantly higher-rate post sale (often when locked into a long-term contract). The practice also allows the company to falsely claim they’re not raising rates on consumers. They omit that they’re talking about the above the line rate being charged, implying that anything below the line (where real fees like taxes are levied) is outside of their control.
Back in 2014, Comcast introduced a new $1.50 per month surcharge it called its “Broadcast TV Fee.” Said fee was really just a portion of the cost of doing business for Comcast (programming), busted out of the full bill and hidden below the line — again to help the company falsely advertise a lower price. Over the last four years Comcast has quietly but quickly pushed this fee skyward, this week informing customers that — alongside numerous other rate hikes like its “Regional Sports Network” fees — the company’s Broadcast TV fee would now be $10 per month for the company’s cable TV customers:
“Comcast is raising its controversial “Broadcast TV” and “Regional Sports Network” fees again on January 1, with the typical total price going from $14.50 to $18.25 a month. The newly raised broadcast TV fee will be $10 a month, and the sports fee will be $8.25 a month, Cord Cutters News reported last week. The new fee sizes are confirmed in a Comcast price list for the Atlanta market. About a year ago, Comcast raised the broadcast TV fee from $6.50 to $8 and the sports fee from $4.50 to $6.50.”
Not to be outdone, Comcast’s also socking millions of its customers with a bevy of additional fees in the new year. Including a wide variety of modem and cable box rental fees, the latter of which arrive after Comcast worked overtime to kill FCC plans to improve cable box competition. Comcast users still routinely pay an arm and a leg in rental fees for hardware that actually costs very little for Comcast to buy wholesale:
“Equipment rental fees are rising, too. Comcast last year raised its modem rental fee from $10 to $11 a month. The new price list for January 1 lists an “Internet/Voice Equipment Rental” fee as $13. Comcast confirmed to Ars that the modem rental fee is rising $2 a month. Customers can avoid that fee by purchasing their own modem.”
There’s nothing healthy about a scenario where customers don’t know how much they’ll pay for service until the bill actually arrives, and face a rotating bevy of covert fees while purportedly under contract. In a country with functional regulators or healthy competition (or hey, both) Comcast wouldn’t be allowed to completely make up a bogus fee specifically to help it advertise a lower price. But despite some occasional noise on this front, neither party has given much of a damn about such “creative” pricing. It sends a pretty clear message: ripping off consumers is fine if you’re semi-creative about it.
As such, regulatory promises to mandate some transparency on this front come and go without meaningful change, and bills attempting to stop the practice routinely get crushed by lobbyist cash in Congress. The FCC’s net neutrality rules included some meager provisions requiring that ISPs being transparent about hidden surcharges, but even those requirements were killed during the agency’s net neutrality repeal (at direct Comcast lobbyist behest).
And while Comcast is occasionally singled out for the practice via lawsuits and consumer groups, it routinely tries to insist that socking customers with bullshit fees is just Comcast’s way of being “transparent.”
Obviously it’s not just the cable industry that engages in such nonsense; telecom companies learned the tactic from the banking, airline, and other industries, who similarly get to confuse customers with surprise surcharges with zero meaningful market or regulatory repercussions. From hotel “resort fees” to family-separating airline assigned seating fees, the United States has repeatedly made it clear across industries that lying to consumers about how much they’ll pay is now a great American pastime akin to baseball.