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.