Charter Spectrum Keeps Mindlessly Jacking Up Its Bullshit Fees

from the false-and-deceptive dept

When Charter Communications (Spectrum) proposed merging with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in 2016, the company repeatedly promised that the amazing "synergies" would lower rates, increase competition, boost employment, and improve the company's services. Of course like countless telecom megamergers before it, little if any of those promises actually materialized.

Instead, the company quickly set about raising prices to manage the huge debt load. And its service has been so aggressively terrible that the company recently almost got kicked out of New York State, something I've never seen in 20 years of covering telecom. All the while, the company continues to not only jack up its standard pricing, but the sneaky fees it uses to advertise one rate, then charge users something else when the bill actually comes due.

We've noted for some time how cable providers over the last few years have added a "broadcast TV" fee to customer bills. Such a fee, which simply takes a part of the cost of programming and buries it below the line, lets cable providers advertise one rate, then hit customers with a higher bill. It's false advertising, but you'd be hard pressed to find a regulator anywhere in North America that gives much of a damn about the practice, be it in telecom, cable TV, the airline sector, or anywhere else. Culturally, American "leadership" appears to view such fees as the pinnacle of capitalistic creativity.

So it just keeps on going. The Los Angeles Times notes that Spectrum is informing its already angry customers that they'll soon be facing yet another $2 monthly hike in the company's broadcast TV fee, on the heels of another hike just last fall. The fall hike bumped the fee 12% to an additional $8.85 per month. This latest hike bumps it another $2 (20%) to $12 per month. And again, this is just for the cost of programming, something you're supposed to have already paid for in your base, above the line bill.

All told, the company nets quite a significant profit from this tap dance, notes the Times David Lazarus:

"That 20% fee increase means big bucks for Charter. The company reported Thursday that it had just over 16 million residential pay-TV subscribers as of the fourth quarter of last year.

Hitting up each of them for an extra $2.04 a month means Charter, the country’s second-largest cable company, will be raking in an additional $391 million in annual revenue, on top of the tens of billions of dollars it already earns."

Keep in mind, this is a company facing unprecedented competition by cheaper, more flexible streaming alternatives. In a functioning, healthy market, you'd either have competition or moderate regulatory oversight applying some pressure to protect consumers. But telecom, cable, and broadband is far from healthy. It's a coagulation of natural broadband monopolies that also sell video, but have such entrenched power over state and federal lawmakers (aka regulatory capture), efforts to actually protect consumers from this nonsense wind up being few and far between in most states.

Until we see somebody in a position of regulatory authority actually crack down on this obvious practice of false advertising, it's pretty clear American leadership's breathless dedication to things like transparency and consumer protection are just empty lip service. Whether we're talking about hotel resort fees or the laundry list of annoying airline fees, we've culturally embraced the idea that false advertising and nickel-and-diming captive customers is not only ignored but actively encouraged. Somebody wake me up when that changes.

Filed Under: broadband, broadcast tv fees, competition, fees, price hikes, tv fee
Companies: charter communications, spectrum


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  1. icon
    Gary (profile), 25 Feb 2019 @ 11:48am

    Kicked

    And its service has been so aggressively terrible that the company recently almost got kicked out of New York State, something I've never seen in 20 years of covering telecom.

    And unfortunately, still haven't seen.

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

  2. identicon
    TFG, 25 Feb 2019 @ 12:03pm

    Re: Kicked

    Them actually getting kicked out, sure - but I think the point was that even the threat was something unseen.

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

  3. icon
    Gary (profile), 25 Feb 2019 @ 12:16pm

    Re: Re: Kicked

    That it was. Still - would have been something to see if they had carried thru.

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

  4. identicon
    Jason, 25 Feb 2019 @ 1:03pm

    Right on the heels of the Tribune dispute and blackout. Coincidence? Ha.

    The broadcast fee hike must not have been enough extra money for them, though. Effective a week or so ago, the various bundles have been updated as well. Several of the premium networks have been removed from the "Gold" package and instead made available as add-on groups for an extra fee. ($10 or $12 per month per premium channel group, as I recall.)

    I'll note that the cost of the "Gold" package remains unchanged by these updates.

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

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2019 @ 1:17pm

    Re:

    And they will wonder why their subscriber numbers drift downwards at an accelerating rate, and they will push for no regulation of their service, but strong regulation of the Internet so as to regain their customer base.

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

  6. icon
    Cvnk (profile), 25 Feb 2019 @ 1:25pm

    I finally dumped Comcast for this very reason. Thankfully I have the ability in my area to choose another provider and now I'm internet only through them (Verizon FIOS).

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

  7. icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 25 Feb 2019 @ 1:26pm

    Re: Kicked

    I'm in NY. The result of them getting kicked out:

    The very next month's cable bill was seven dollars higher.

    My last bill warned of the same $2 hike for broadcast TV fees.

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

  8. identicon
    bob, 25 Feb 2019 @ 1:29pm

    Re: lucky you.

    Out of the frying pan and into the fire I guess.

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

  9. icon
    JoeCool (profile), 25 Feb 2019 @ 1:47pm

    Don't forget "introductory" periods

    Just last xmas, I went off the introductory period, meaning my Spectrum internet bill went up $23 a month. What a great way of showing your appreciation of loyal customers - raise their bill for no reason at all! :)

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

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2019 @ 2:23pm

    Re:

    All you need to do now is go through a 3rd party VPN so Verizon can't track and sell all of your traffic data.

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

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2019 @ 2:46pm

    I now pay more for internet only, with Charter, than i did last year for the "package" deal.

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

  12. identicon
    Dave, 25 Feb 2019 @ 6:12pm

    Wake me?

    "Somebody wake me up when that changes."

    Sorry, we can't wake the dead, i.e., don't hold your breath, or it will be a long time away.

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

  13. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 25 Feb 2019 @ 7:36pm

    Its a pity that cities & states didn't have the lawyers who wrote Charters service agreement write one about the poles, easements, etc.

    Its sad but perhaps the only way to teach the industry is to do to them what they do to us... Imagine a city boosting their easement costs 12% every 6 months... the telcos woudl scream bloody murder. Of course we have competition, so they can just subscribe to a different city (who will be doing the same thing in lockstep).

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

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 5:13am

    whaaa?

    The author states: "Keep in mind, this is a company facing unprecedented competition by cheaper, more flexible streaming alternatives."

    I don't understand that statement. How can a customer stream without a different ISP in their area? Is the author suggesting that the customer in an area serviced by Charter "stream" via the local phone company DSL, or the local satellite based ISP, or a local FTTH ISP? Yes streaming can be cheaper (depending on how many streams you subscribe to) than cable tv from the local cable company/ISP monopoly, but if you're paying Charter to stream, instead of paying Charter for cable tv...you're still paying Charter.

    As much as I hate to admit it, with few exceptions, we're surrounded by monopolies and oligopolies, and it sucks.

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

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 6:07am

    Karl, please stop using the word "breathless", it makes you look dumb. Thanks.

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

  16. icon
    Thad (profile), 26 Feb 2019 @ 7:46am

    Re:

    Anon, please stop making the some complaint about Karl's word choice on every single article he writes; it makes you look like Ehud. Thanks.

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

  17. icon
    Thad (profile), 26 Feb 2019 @ 7:47am

    Re: whaaa?

    There's something of a fair point in there (Charter gets paid either way), but pretending you don't understand what Karl is saying is perhaps not the best rhetorical device for making that point.

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

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 8:04am

    Re: whaaa?

    How can a customer stream without a different ISP in their area?

    It could have been stated a little clearer but the article is not talking about Charter's ISP service, it's solely referencing their cable TV service, nothing else.

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

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 8:41am

    Re:

    My bill went up $1 a couple months ago. I think it was just to piss me off. That's on top of the $15 hike from a year ago.

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

  20. icon
    DeadSurvivor (profile), 6 Mar 2019 @ 10:31pm

    Frontier ...

    All it would take is for Frontier to get their shit together.

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


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