Broadband

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
sneaky fees, transparency, tv fee

Companies:
comcast



Comcast Continues To Insist Its Sneaky, Misleading Fees Are Just The Company's Way Of Being 'Transparent'

from the false-advertising-is-good-for-you dept

We've noted for years now how broadband and cable providers have created a high art out of bogus, misleading fees. Such fees, ranging in name from Comcast's "broadcast TV fee" to CenturyLink's "internet cost recovery fee" -- allow these companies to falsely advertise one price, then sock consumers with a much higher rate once the bill comes due. This allows these companies to not only jack up prices while claiming the don't, but it has the added bonus of making direct price comparisons with competitors almost impossible.

Comcast initially charged $1.50 when its broadcast TV fee first appeared back in 2013, but now charges upwards of $6.50 more per month in many markets -- a 333% increase in just three years. With the occasional exception, regulators and lawmakers tend to turn a blind eye to this practice as little more than pricing creativity. Comcast was however sued for the practice last year, plaintiffs claiming that this practice is not only false advertising, but is primarily designed to let the company raise rates on customers it convinced to sign long-term contracts.

For its part, Comcast has spent the last few years insisting that sneaky, misleading fees are just the company's way of being "transparent" with its users:

"Beginning in 2014, we will itemize a portion of broadcast retransmission costs as a separate line item to be more transparent with our customers about the factors that drive price changes," he said. “In 2014, we will not increase the price of Limited Basic or Digital Preferred video service, and adjustments to other video service prices will be lower than they would have been without the Broadcast TV Fee."

Yes, nothing says "transparency" quite like an advertised price that suddenly jumps due to a completely manufactured, sneaky fee. In Oregon, customers were just informed that Comcast will be hitting users there in October with a $1.50 increase in the broadcast fee, a $2 increase in the company's regional sports fee (also a focus of the recent lawsuit), and a $1 increase in the cost of modem rental. And again, Comcast is attempting to tell locals this is all part of the company's quest to be more transparent with its users:

"We continue to make investments in our network and technology to give customers more for their money - like faster Internet service and more WiFi hotspots, more video across viewing screens, better technology like X1 and a better customer experience," Comcast Oregon spokeswoman Amy Keiter said in a written statement. The sports and broadcast fees, she wrote, "allow us to be more transparent with our customers about the factors driving price changes, and represent only a portion of our costs of carrying broadcast and regional sports networks."

Apparently, Comcast would have you believe that it's necessary to tack these fees on to your bills to help emphasize the fact that programmers are demanding higher and higher rates for the same service. But even if broadcaster demands are often ludicrous -- that's simply the cost of doing business -- and should be included in the overall cost of service. Comcast also apparently believes its subscribers are stupid enough to not realize Comcast NBC Universal is itself one of the biggest broadcasters in America, and owns most of the regional sports networks it's charging an additional fee for.

Eventually, a regulator or lawmaker somewhere will realize this is a predatory and misleading practice that harms consumers. Until then, Comcast customers not only get a heaping dose of false advertising, but also get to hear that this misleading pricing is for their own good. Enjoy!


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 12 Sep 2017 @ 6:06am

    "Eventually, a regulator or lawmaker somewhere will realize this is a predatory and misleading practice that harms consumers."

    This sentence has got the "Ironic Ajit" seal of approval and the "Crony Donald" blessings.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Machin Shin, 12 Sep 2017 @ 6:37am

    "The sports and broadcast fees, she wrote, "allow us to be more transparent with our customers about the factors driving price changes"

    They also make people like me really really really pissed off because I don't give a shit about sports. So you start charging me a fee to watch sports and then tell me I can't just remove that from my "bundle"....... Yeah, that does not make for a happy customer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Comcast, 12 Sep 2017 @ 1:29pm

      Re:

      We'll live.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2017 @ 1:50pm

      Re:

      Specifying costs you as a user can't do anything about will never be transparency, since it is a free lunch for the company and almost always makes for "other costs" and other collective designations to hide profits (exception being if the company is defrauding users about other items on the bill...).

      Transparency for transparencys sake is propaganda and it is only going to frustrate users. Maybe Comcast is hoping politicians will take most of the heat like they are elected for, but generally irrational feelings like frustration hits the nearest target: The sender.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    spodula, 12 Sep 2017 @ 6:47am

    Transparent

    Transparent is another way of saying "You dont see it comming" isnt it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wolfie0827 (profile), 12 Sep 2017 @ 6:48am

    Recovery

    "CenturyLink's "internet cost recovery fee""

    Because not all of the internet coming through to your computer is used and the internet is not an unlimited resource so we recover what you don't use to allow others to use it.

    Otherwise we will run out of internet!

    (see it is for the consumers own good.)

    And do I really need the sarcasm tag?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Machin Shin, 12 Sep 2017 @ 8:32am

      Re: Recovery

      I'm kind of surprised actually that CenturyLink in my town advertised one price, I ordered it and when the bill came it was exactly what they advertised.

      Now before anyone gets too impressed, that is after they told me install would be Thursday between 8am and 5pm, and an adult had to be present. So I took the day off from work and sat there till 4pm when I get the call from a tech saying they couldn't make it that day, and they couldn't come Friday either.

      I also still have to try and deal with my 25mbs connection maxing out at around 15mbs. So umm, yeah, giving me the advertised price is about the only thing they have managed to get right so far.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2017 @ 7:18am

    One has to agree with Comcast.

    Their sneaky misleading fees make it totally and completely apparent what a group of lying, thieving, scumbags they are which only a fool would do business with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    SirWired (profile), 12 Sep 2017 @ 7:30am

    If they want to split it out, fine, but include it in the quote

    For many years, airline fares have been split out between the fare and/or fuel surcharges and/or seasonal surcharges. However, all that happens internally, with the only evidence it occurs at all existing as some cryptic codes on a ticket receipt. And now we have all-in (with taxes) airline pricing, because taxes can vary between airlines for the same source/destination pairs if they take different means to get there.

    I could have some sympathy if they did not include actual required taxes (like sales tax, excise tax, franchise tax, whatever) in the published rate, as long as the taxes were consistent between providers (as in, if there was a special "sattellite tax", it needs to be included in my quote from DirectTV.)

    I agree that fees that don't result in a straight $X-per-customer or $0.0X-per-$1 check getting cut to a government agency are absolutely, no-questions-asked a cost of doing business and should be included in the advertised rate. If they want to split things out on the bill, and tell the customer where their monthly fee went, that's fine, but that needs to happen somewhere outside the "$49/mo" Large Print.

    I went shopping for broadband once, and not only were the bogus fees not disclosed, I couldn't even get them when I asked for them; all I was told was, "You'll know what they are when they show up on your bill."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John William Nelson (profile), 12 Sep 2017 @ 7:35am

    Republicans want to gut regulations, then gut consumer protection laws

    What kills me is that the so-called "small government" and "pro-free market" Republicans want to gut regulations, and then gut consumer protection laws.

    Regulations often level the playing field for consumers who otherwise don't have the market power to punish local monopolies, such as utilities like broadband service providers, to prevent abusive market practices.

    The economic argument against government oversight, however, is that it is inefficient. The free market should be used to provide punishment for abusive practices. The problem is that broadband providers often have monopolistic positions, sometimes created by legal regulation in some jurisdiction. Yet, Republicans don't want to address this issue and create an actual free market.

    One way to counter this is to create private rights of action through consumer protection laws. Many states, and the federal government, have consumer protection laws which can be used by individual or classes of consumers to obtain relief from abusive practices. In economic parlance, this is one method of forcing an economic system to internalize otherwise external harms and provide feedback to the system so that pricing can properly adjust within the market. (Market competition also provides this, but in some situations competition does not exist, and other forms of feedback and redress are needed.)

    However, Republicans want to gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They wish to gut other consumer protection laws, such as the FDCPA and various protections granted under FTC regulations. They want to curb the rights of consumers to bring self-help lawsuits by allowing companies to require arbitration or prohibit class actions.

    The Republicans are not looking at this in a holistic manner. They essentially want big business to win, and consumers to lose, with no balance between the powers. This harms not just consumers, however, as over time it harms big business as well. Over time the value of a business venture will degrade if not renewed with new ideas, output, and efficiency. Monopolies reduce new ideas, reduce output increases, and promote inefficiencies.

    Then again, looking at who backs the Republicans generally (looking at you U.S. Chamber of Commerce) none of this is really a surprise.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2017 @ 8:59am

    'Eventually, a regulator or lawmaker somewhere will realize this is a predatory and misleading practice that harms consumers'

    since when has a single US politician, let alone a government official given a flyin' fuck about the consumers? there is only one thing they want from the telecom industries and ISPs and that is more and more 'campaign contributions'! not a single one of them will ever make a stand against these industries and any Bill introduced will immediately fail because of the number of corrupt assholes that would rather take down the Bill and carry on screwing consumers than back it!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PlagueSD (profile), 12 Sep 2017 @ 9:36am

    The Republicans are not looking at this in a holistic manner. They essentially want big business to win, and consumers to lose, with no balance between the powers.

    That's basically saying we want the farmer to be prosperous, but we want his crops to die. Maybe that's why there's so many government subsidies. Corporations can get away with this because there's nowhere else for the consumer to go. (ie. Monopolies)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 12 Sep 2017 @ 10:13am

    I have no beef with transparency.

    Beginning in 2014, we will itemize a portion of broadcast retransmission costs as a separate line item to be more transparent with our customers about the factors that drive price changes [...]

    You know? That's perfectly fine. It's just that transparency is about itemizing the quoted price which should be the bottom line.

    If I go in the supermarket and the bill contains items like "electricity" and "building rent" on top of the price tags on the food, this isn't transparency. It's fraud.

    Transparency would be listing the percentages of that cost factoring in the total consisting of the tagged prices.

    Nobody actually opens up his internals like that.

    Not even Comcast: those items do not reflect the actual costs in the shown categories or they'd be different every month.

    And besides: if Comcast externalizes its costs into additional items: what is the advertised price about then? Executive bonuses?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2017 @ 10:38am

    My father's Spectrum bill

    $62.99/mo service
    $15.00 for two receivers (one in bedroom, one in living room).
    $10.00 in taxes, including a $4.81 franchise fee, which is also, um, interesting.
    $7.50 broadcast fee

    No comment, just sharing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AnonCow, 12 Sep 2017 @ 10:51am

    Sadly ironic that they are caught in a lie about how honest they are...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Darrellb (profile), 12 Sep 2017 @ 12:45pm

    Actually they are claiming that listing the fees for you to plainly see on your bill is transparency. That is true.
    If they simply raised the total price without a disclosure, that would be sneaky.
    That that they have been transparent... you get to decide if you still want to remain a customer.
    If there is a better deal somewhere else, take it.
    I recently moved to Wisconsin from Denver and for less service, I had to pay $40 more than I did for Comcast in Denver... but I can't get that here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Machin Shin, 12 Sep 2017 @ 1:09pm

      Re:

      "Actually they are claiming that listing the fees for you to plainly see on your bill is transparency. That is true.
      If they simply raised the total price without a disclosure, that would be sneaky."

      These companies often lure you in with contracts stating a set price for a number of years. So you see the add saying "TV and internet for only $69.99 a month for 3 years" With these fees though they tack them on outside of the main bill so the price keeps going up. So suddenly your $69.99 a month is more like $120 a month.

      "That that they have been transparent... you get to decide if you still want to remain a customer.
      If there is a better deal somewhere else, take it."

      Yeah, except your locked into a contract and have to pay a nice big "Early termination fee".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 12 Sep 2017 @ 5:26pm

    They are being transparent

    They are going to hose you any way they can. No secret.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.