Comcast’s Bullshit ‘Broadcast TV Fee’ Surges To $27 A Month

from the *spurious-surcharge dept

Back in 2014, Comcast introduced a new $1.50 per month surcharge on cable bills it called its “Broadcast TV Fee.” Said fee was really just a portion of the cost of doing business for Comcast (programming costs), busted out of the full bill and hidden below the line — designed specifically to let the company falsely advertise a lower price.

Fast forward to 2022 and the fee has jumped to $27 a month, with recent hikes as high as $7.35 a month in some areas:

Comcast’s advertised prices do not include the Broadcast TV or the Regional Sports Network fees even though these fees account for a large portion of customers’ actual monthly bills. On Comcast’s ordering website, the base prices are listed along with a message stating that Broadcast TV and Regional Sports fees are “extra” and that the price is “subject to change.” The Broadcast TV and Regional Sports fees also aren’t included in how Comcast calculates promotional pricing and thus can be raised even when a customer’s promotional rate hasn’t expired.

This is something that cable giants have been doing for decades. It’s effectively false advertising, and allows them to pretend that they aren’t consistently raising rates. And, as the quote above notes, it even allows them to raise prices on you if you’ve agreed to a promotional rate.

2019 Consumer Reports study found that about 24% of consumer cable bills are comprised of bullshit fees, generating cable giants $28 billion in additional revenue annually. The problem is just as bad over among phone companies selling broadband (see Centurylink’s utterly nonsensical “Internet Cost Recovery” fee).

Occasionally, a state AG will dole out a brief wrist slap for the practice that only costs Comcast (or Charter, or Centurylink) a tiny fraction of the money they made off the misleading fees. Federal regulators, regardless of party, have generally given their tacit approval to the practice, much as they have in the banking, airline, and other industries. Ripping people off creatively is innovative, apparently.

The Biden FCC’s big solution to this and other nickel-and-diming efforts has been to demand a voluntary nutrition label, letting you more clearly see how you’re getting ripped off. Actually stopping big telecom monopolies from ripping you off (or even acknowledging that it’s happening using pointed language) is unfortunately just a bridge too far.

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Comments on “Comcast’s Bullshit ‘Broadcast TV Fee’ Surges To $27 A Month”

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23 Comments
David says:

It's not "effectively false advertising"

This is something that cable giants have been doing for decades. It’s effectively false advertising, […]

It’s false advertising if you are quoted a wrong price before making a contract. After that, it is fraud or larceny.

Some U.S. institutions and customs (law enforcement is another such thing as is the gun “culture” and associated laws) just are “banana republic stuff” driven by bribing politicians to maintain the status quo.

It’s just another reason why the systemic entrenchment of the U.S. political system is a bad thing. Small things like ranked-choice voting soften things at the edges, but without addressing the elephant in the room, namely corporate funding of politics, something like telcom unaccountability is not going to get attention.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

It’s false advertising if you are quoted a wrong price before making a contract. After that, it is fraud or larceny.

Legally, that’s not true. I agree it should be, but as I wrote in another comment, US regulators consider it perfectly acceptable to advertise a product—in a store or externally—as, for example, $10, when they have no intention of letting it go for less than $10.70. “Sales tax”, they say, which might be an acceptable excuse for public ads likely to be seen by people not subject to sales tax, but shouldn’t excuse fraud relating to shelf tags or prices shown to logged-in shoppers with known addresses.

We might be able to convince the FTC that Comcast is illegally making fradulent claims. But ISPs and Cable TV providers are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the FCC, even if they abdicate some of their regulatory responsibilities in favor of making mere suggestions to shady businesses.

David says:

Re: Re: You are confused

Legally, that’s not true. I agree it should be, but as I wrote in another comment, US regulators consider it perfectly acceptable to advertise a product—in a store or externally—as, for example, $10, when they have no intention of letting it go for less than $10.70.

The store makes an offer by display prices. The actual contract is concluded at the cash register. If the clerk rings up and demands a different price than advertised, you can still say “nope, don’t want” and not enter into contractual obligations.

That’s not the case for telcom contracts. By the time they flash you a different price, you already entered into a contract. The advertising phase is over by then.

If I buy and pay for one kind of car, the dealer is not free to deliver me a different car or tell me that the car comes without doors unless I pay more. That has nothing to do with false advertising after the sale. It’s extortion by then.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You wrote “It’s false advertising if you are quoted a wrong price before making a contract”; you didn’t say anything about not being told the “real” price before signing the contract. Anyway, “we never intended to honor the advertised price, but we tell people that as they’re about to hand over their money” has never been a legitimate defense to a false advertising claim. Except in relation to sales taxes and FCC-regulated businesses.

I suspect people would have a right of recission if their first bill did not match a written “all-in quote” preceding their contract. But then they’d be without cable TV and/or internet service, the latter being a real problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

The Biden FCC’s big solution to this and other nickel-and-diming efforts has been to demand a voluntary nutrition label

Isn’t “demand a voluntary” just an obfuscated way of saying “suggest”? I’ve suggested to stores that they stop the fraud of tax-exclusive shelf prices, but I’m not delusional enough to call that a “solution” when nobody’s actually done it. Why would Comcast stop the bullshit without being forced to? What are you gonna do, go to a competitor or give them a bad customer service rating? Complain to the FTC or other regulators about false advertising? (Sorry, the FCC has exclusive jurisdiction over such claims for the services they pretend to regulate.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

I’ve suggested to stores that they stop the fraud of tax-exclusive shelf prices…

Sorry to butt in, but the implications of that statement are incorrect. The store owners aren’t ignoring you out of profiteering, rather they must ignore you by obedience to the law.

In most states that have sales tax, the law says pretty clearly that an advertised (sticker) price must not include any taxes or fees, and may include a notice similar to “plus tax” or plus sales tax” (And of course, the ever popular addition; “…and license”, or “…and other fees”, etc.) Those addendums are not required by law, but custom (and courtesy towards customers!) kind of dictates such terms be made known up front.

Though not the dollar amounts of those added fees, Heaven forbid!

Again, the citizenry within a state is used to this, they’ve grown up with it all their lives, so they aren’t going to squawk. As for me personally, I simply look at the sticker price, add 10%, and I have a number that I can use to decide just how badly do I need this thing. Been working for me so far. 😉

sumgai

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In most states that have sales tax, the law says pretty clearly that an advertised (sticker) price must not include any taxes or fee

I’ve literally never heard of this, let alone the idea that it’s common among states. Do you have a citation?

Again, the citizenry within a state is used to this, they’ve grown up with it all their lives

We could say the same about Comcast. You should have known a cable company was never going to give you the advertised price, so why complain?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Outfits that sell stuff with tax included, e.g., concessions at amusement parks, literally have to buy a special license for “tax absorbtion”.

That is literally how sales tax works. You can’t advertise a tax-absorbed price, and anywhere that is possible (maybe some fook weird states because reasons), it would be confusing unless everyone does it.

No, prices not including tax arenot false advertising. Everyone understands taxes. Taxes are literally not part of the price, either, they’re taxes.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2

“Taxes are literally not part of the price, either, they’re taxes.”

If you ever see a tourist from outside the US looking confused or digging through their pockets for extra change, it’s because in most places they’re including in the advertised price. They’re set up to advertise what you have to pay at the checkout, not what the retailer wishes the price was if they didn’t have to pay sales taxes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3

They’re set up to advertise what you have to pay at the checkout

The pre-tax price, it should be noted, is not hidden. It may be visible on the shelf, but if not, receipts and online listings will note the amount going to taxes. It’s pretty much a necessity of a value-added tax (VAT), because anyone claiming input credits for a business will need to know for their tax forms.

Advertisements and online listings will often have wording like “(includes 21% VAT)”. VAT-exempt buyers, such as Americans, may be able to click a button to get VAT-free prices. People tend to like this kind of fine print much better than when they’re surprised by a higher price. If Comcast advertised cable service for “$70/month (less in some areas)”, and the bills reflected it, I bet they’d get a quick boost in their customer satisfaction rankings. And nobody would come after them for breaking the law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The prices rise under discussion does not impact those who have cut the cord,as it is a cable TV price rise.

“Cut the cord” is quite the misleading term here, because it’s the exact same “cord” still being used for the internet.

Anyway, I’ve asked before and never got an answer. Does anyone know why Comcast stopped making internet subscribers pay for TV? With no competition or effective regulation, they should be able to get away with it. Is there some old regulation still on the books, from the days when regulators did their job?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Its almost like paying for insulin and high bloodpressure meds instead of adjusting a diet and exercising.

If a lifestyle requires “bulk entertainment”, then $50/$100 a month it is for that service (cord cutter), plus subscriptions.

Its like that nitter meme of “that MF paid $27 for OTA HDTV” for those à la carte television subscribers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Is your brain cold, because you’re obviously not using it. ‘Cord cutters’ quit paying their ISP for cable service, but keep paying their ISP for internet access and also pay different streaming services for TV/movie content. You do understand that if the ISP looses enough money on cable TV, they’ll just raise the price on internet access, right? (Heck, they’ll just raise the prices for internet access, because it’s…Thursday) Do you really think the ISPs will just settle for less profit? To quote president Bidden: “Come on, Man!”

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