New Law Bans ISPs From Charging You A 'Rental' Fee For Hardware You Already Own

from the ill-communication dept

For much of this year, broadband customers have been complaining that Frontier Communications, the nation’s third-biggest telco, had been charging its customers a rental fee for modems they already owned. Normally, you’re supposed to be able to buy your own modem instead of paying your ISP a rental fee upwards of $10 per month. To nab some extra dough from captive customers, Frontier basically decided to charge its customers a rental fee anyway, giving them a polite, though giant, middle finger when they complained.

And because the FCC’s net neutrality repeal effectively neutered the agency’s ability to police this sort of behavior (not that the Pai FCC would anyway), consumers who complained to the agency were met with a glassy-eyed stare:

“Son filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission; Frontier responded to the complaint but stuck to its position that he has to pay the fee. A voicemail that Frontier left with Son and his wife said the company informed the FCC that “the router monthly charge is an applicable fee, and it will continue to be billed.

The FCC complaints team told Son in an email, “We reviewed the provider’s response and based on the information submitted, we believe your provider has responded to your concerns.” With FCC Chairman Ajit Pai having deregulated the broadband industry, there’s little to no chance of the commission taking action to stop fees like the one charged by Frontier.”

Fast forward to last month when the problem was fixed, shockingly enough, by the US Congress. A massive US government spending bill approved by Congress and signed by President Trump last month not only included some updates to the Communications Act cracking down slightly on bullshit cable TV fees, but a little noticed provision that formally bans the nonsense Frontier has been engaged in:

“A new “consumer right to accurate equipment charges” prohibits the companies from charging customers for “covered equipment provided by the consumer.” Covered equipment is defined as “equipment (such as a router) employed on the premises of a person… to provide [TV service] or to provide fixed broadband Internet access service.”

The companies may not charge rental or lease fees in cases when “the provider has not provided the equipment to the consumer; or the consumer has returned the equipment to the provider.”

The new law is an update to the Communications Act and is scheduled to apply six months after passage, which would be June 20. The law gives the Federal Communications Commission an option to extend the deadline by six months if the FCC “finds that good cause exists for such an additional extension.” As we’ve previously written, the FCC hasn’t done much of anything to protect customers from bogus rental fees.

The telecom and media sector usually lobbies tooth and nail (usually successfully) to kill these kinds of protections, but the sheer size of the bill apparently let the provision sneak through. Granted the law only matters if somebody’s willing to enforce it, and with an FTC and FCC that have repeatedly shown they’re a rubber stamp for their BFFs in the telecom sector, that’s not going to come easy.

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Comments on “New Law Bans ISPs From Charging You A 'Rental' Fee For Hardware You Already Own”

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37 Comments
Nicholas barsalou says:

Re: Re: No charge bringnown “approved” modem

So funny because they definitely already do that! Just now, well, approx 15 minutes ago I was on the phone with Comcast xfinity, trouble connecting my new service, The man I’m speaking with representing Xfinity asks me for the modems MAC address which I provide and he tells me it’s not on the list of supported devices and I had to look it up on Xfinity website and I said it’s a cable modem it should work all you have to do is hit the button to authorize it or activate it you know what I say and he said yes sir that’s what I’m telling you I need to activate it but I need to make sure it’s on the approved list first but it’s a modem cable modem does the job but it myself in good standing but it’s not on their ““ approved list therefore now I have to go out and buy a different one so what the front?! So much for provide my own modem ‘ej?! Smh

TKnarr (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’d respond by pointing out that their contract is very clear on the subject: they disclaim any responsibility for anything on the home side of the connection pylon and declare it to be the responsibility of the subscriber. So, when I connect a cable modem to the wall outlet, I’m connecting it to my network. And the connection between that wiring and their network? Well, that was done by their technician, not me (and in fact I’m not allowed access to the pylon at all).

They can still of course refuse to connect your home if you don’t use their equipment, but then they have to advertise the price of that equipment as part of the cost or face suits for false advertising (on the grounds that their own rules make it impossible to obtain the advertised service at the advertised price when that advertised price doesn’t include the cost of equipment).

JD says:

Re: Re: Possible lawsuit for false advertising/fraud/+ ??

face suits for false advertising :>}
What if you’d signed up for High speed fiber GB service with xfinity @ brand new apt and a manager has admitted on recorded call that the initial tech installed the modem that could only get less than 300mb? Of course he continually apologized for charging over $100 monthly for GB high speed service that their equipment was never capable of achieving. Like purchasing and paying for a Porsche and but finding they covered it up and gave you
a Ford Fiesta.

Nathan F (profile) says:

If they continue to charge me the rental fee after the law kicks in then I would just turn off auto draft and mail them a check every month for the amount minus the rental fee. When they call me to complain I will point out that they are in violation of federal law and if they want the difference they can take me to court.

A contract can’t be legal if there are terms in it that are contrary to the law.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

When they call me to complain I will point out that they are in violation of federal law and if they want the difference they can take me to court.

Good thought, but more than likely they’ll just terminate your service for "nonpayment." Possibly even send you to collections.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
rorybaust (profile) says:

Sad

the really sad thing is that in the USA you need a law to stop that , and the sadder thing is that the likely hood of the new law being enforced is probably non existent and sadder again is that nobody is the least bit surprised that this is now the status quo of business

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sad

nobody is the least bit surprised that this is now the status quo of business

Yeah, that’s called Capitalism. At it’s lack of a heart it’s nothing but pure greed.

What? Did you think "buy low, sell high" had a huge asterisk next to it with fine print along the lines of "as long as it doesn’t hurt your fellow man"!? Did you think that having generation after generation of people who lived and died by that creed that their society wouldn’t become warped and twisted to serve greed unconditionally? That’s what Capitalism is. The cardinal sin of greed enshrined as worship to a golden (or green) god.

It’s same reason why you have the likes of Murdoch and his papers attempting to cast blame on 200+ non-existent arsonists for the fires in Australia. It’s the reason why Republicans have been attempting to start yet another war for decades. It’s the reason why landfills around the world are filling up with toxic e-waste. It’s the reason why Tobacco companies (and now vaping companies) fought so hard against doctors and scientists. It’s the reason why the US is still the only western power without a universal healthcare system. Etc.

If this surprises anyone, they haven’t been paying attention. Humanity is more than willing to sell itself for money and has been for a long time. The only difference is that as time goes on, the effects of that greed only get worse, with each generation feeling those effects more and more. Should we change this? Absolutely. Will we change this? Probably not. If history is anything to go by…..

AricTheRed says:

The sonlution might be Small Claims Court

I say Sue ’em in small claims court. In many places the claim can be up to $5k & if they have been properly served & don’t show up, or send some company rep that has no idea and no supporting doc’s you might win.

This was a situation Sony found themselves in where a big-screen LCD projection TV they made for a few years. Sony had warrantee problems & were later found to know the product was a defective design, they extended the TV warrantee and offered free "Repairs", where the projector unit blue channel would burn-up because of excess UV light from the projector bulb & the screen would gradually go green. (did not bother me playing X-Com, kinda’ fit the genre)

Original purchasers would sue them in small claims court, no one would show or in at least one case I recall they sent a sales-rep that knew nothing and TV owners got paid.

here is an example of some instances…

https://sites.google.com/site/sonylcdrptvproblems/small-claims-lawsuits

I know that this example is particular to a product, but someone could be successful for breach of contract potentially as they are charging you for renting a product that they don’t own, so your mileage may vary…

Iggy says:

What a progressive law. I’m sure this will shake things up in the industry.

In other news, Bernie Sanders has proposed a $150 plan to build out last mile internet access through co-operatives, municipal internet providers, and open access provider. The plan would also unbundle internet service from content, and break up the large providers.

https://berniesanders.com/issues/high-speed-internet-all/

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