AT&T Jacks Up Broadband Rates With Misleading 'Property Tax' Fee

from the america's-greediest-network-is-also-the-sneakiest dept

For years we've talked about how the broadband and cable industry has perfected the use of utterly bogus fees to jack up subscriber bills, a dash of financial creativity it adopted from the banking and airline industries. Countless cable and broadband companies tack on a myriad of completely bogus fees below the line, letting them advertise one rate -- then sock you with a higher rate once your bill actually arrives. Despite this being false advertising, regulators have chosen to look the other way for decades.

Last week, a new study highlighted how nearly 25 percent of your cable bill is comprised of bullshit fees, netting $28 billion annually from such surcharges. This week, AT&T is under fire for a new wrinkle on an old game. The company has started raising its customers' broadband prices by as much as seven percent to help offset the company's property taxes. In this case, customers who thought they were signing up for fiber broadband at a fixed, locked rate were suddenly informed they needed to pay 7% more to help pay off AT&T's tax burden:

Effective October 1, 2019, there will be an increase in the AT&T Cost Assessment Charge used to recover AT&T property taxes. The monthly rate will change from 2.92% to 7.00% of your total AT&T Business Internet, Phone and/or U-verse TV monthly charges. This charge is not a tax or fee that the government requires AT&T to collect from its customers.

Again there are several problems here. One, advertising one rate then charging something else is false advertising. Two, AT&T's property taxes are the cost of doing business, and should be included above the line. Three, these users were locked in at a "fixed, guaranteed rate," then AT&T simply ignored the promise.

AT&T's practice of adding its property taxes appears to have begun sometime in 2017. But there's no indication that the rates being paid actually, realistically reflect AT&T's property tax burden:

AT&T has been charging the property-tax fee to business customers since at least mid-2017. An AT&T business DSL customer in Oklahoma complained about it on Reddit at the time, saying the then-new fee was 1.08% of the monthly bill.

In January 2019, an AT&T customer complained in a DSLReports forum that the property-tax fee was raised from 2% to 6.69%. "So I gotta ask—did their 'property taxes' increase by 335%?" the customer wrote, noting the greater-than-three-fold increase.

In a functional market either competition would kick in to punish companies for this kind of behavior in the form of subscriber exodus, or a regulator would step in to, at the very least, warn the company away from such misleading predatory behavior. But this being the United States, where the FCC just effectively neutered itself at lobbyists' behest, based on entirely manufactured justifications, and vibrant competition remains a pipe dream, we get neither option. Enjoy.

Filed Under: bogus fees, false advertising, misleading fees, price hike, property tax fee
Companies: at&t


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  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 6:33am

    Yeah, I'm pretty sure this would be illegal where I come from.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 7:52am

      Re:

      this would be illegal

      If the first excuse some idiots didn't come up with was: "Bbbbbuuut, corporate freedumz!"

      Seriously, the "right to profit" ideology needs to die already. All it is does is attempt to justify corporate fleecing of society.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 8:20am

        Re: Re:

        "right to profit" ideology

        Isn't that the same one that paid killers use? I mean, it's "nothing personal", they're just trying to earn a profit, right?

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 8:28am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I thought it was "Nuttin' personal, juz buziness"
          At least that is what the wise guys say in hollywood movies.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 9:48am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            The wise guys in the Hollywood movies have script writers.

            The wise guys in the Chicago Mob watch television like the rest of us and assume things like The Godfather, The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire are role models.

            The script writers find shady contacts to try to add verisimilitude to their shows; the contacts parrot back what they've seen on TV, and there ya go. Citogenesis

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 6:33am

    State Actors

    This is what At&T is allowed to do because it provides backbone access to all data flowing along its lines to the government. In return they are allowed to raise rates, add bogus fees and ignore laws that would have shut down any other business in the country.

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

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 6:48am

      Re: State Actors

      That isn't what "State Actor" means.

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

      • identicon
        A Guy, 18 Oct 2019 @ 6:56am

        Re: Re: State Actors

        It can be. Sometimes things that are supposed to be private entities start performing government like services like a state and the executive branch lets them get away with it or encourages it because the executive branch benefits.

        In those situations, private entities have been found to be state actors by courts and have been forced to comply with providing full government-like due process, forced to stop interfering with free speech, and are forced to start treating the citizens they interact with like they are a government agency.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 7:22am

          Re: Re: Re: State Actors

          "Sometimes things that are supposed to be private entities start performing government like services"

          Sometimes people go to jail because of their corruption, performing illegal acts does not make you a state actor. The privatize everything crusade is not going well.

          "private entities have been found to be state actors by courts"
          In the us? Do you have any case numbers?

          "forced to comply with providing full government-like due process, forced to stop interfering with free speech, and are forced to start treating the citizens they interact with like they are a government agency."

          I am interested in the case numbers associated with these claims you have made. Lack of case numbers will result in your claims being unsubstantiated (circular file).

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 8:21am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: State Actors

            So you are saying that the government doesn't have taps copying the backbone of the internet that runs through AT&T networks? You are saying the government didn't force AT&T to allow that access and then grant monopoly powers to the company that used to be a monopoly until it was broken up only to reform just like a nightmare? You are saying the literally billions of dollars that have gone to upgrade the internet for rural users that still haven't happened isn't a payoff? You are saying the regulatory capture that was allowed to take place wasn't all a quid pro quo for the monolithic company known as AT&T? If you believe these statements are incorrect, feel free to educate me.

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

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 8:34am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: State Actors

              "So you are saying ..... ?"

              • No, where did I type any of that crapola? I am saying show me the case numbers. It really is that simple.

              Your education is your responsibility, not mine.
              The jump to conclusions game is fun and exciting but perhaps your strong points lie elsewhere.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 8:35am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: State Actors

            I assume he's basing his claims on one of the following:
            Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501
            Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority, 365 U.S. 715
            Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, 531 U.S. 288

            Though the first does not apply to AT&T since telecommunications have never been an exclusive activity of the state.

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

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 2:03pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: State Actors

              Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501

              • seems to be about a hybrid private/government mess, no wonder they got it screwed up.

              Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority, 365 U.S. 715

              • seems to be about discrimination based upon race, which is something all private business is, sort of, required to comply with.

              Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, 531 U.S. 288

              • what a mess that case is

              "The facts that can bear on an attribution's fairness--e. g., a nominally private entity may be a state actor when it is entwined with governmental policies or when government is en-twined in its management or control"

              • this means everything is a state actor - awesome! I think we all knew already that we live in a police state run by maniacs.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 7:40am

        Re: Re: State Actors

        Thank you, we can not just redefine terms that have legal definitions in new and novel ways.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 10:27am

        Re: Re: State Actors

        It is so fucking sad the American people couldn't boycott this atnt right out of existence. Hell, they don't even try. I've been boycotting them since the seventies.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 10:32am

          Re: Re: Re: State Actors

          I would rather paint on cave walls for future relatives to read than give one motherfucking penny to that damned corporation.

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

          • icon
            Gary (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 11:05am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Crisis Actors

            Since I don't get great reception from Sprint and Verizon in several key areas, it really isn't a question of boycotting the one that works well when I need it.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 7:26am

    I look forward to the day when my phone bill will be itemized to the max. I figure it could be hundreds of pages listing every expense. I wonder how much they will charge me for toilet paper. They could call it the toilet paper fee, but I'm sure most customers would use other terminology.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 7:39am

    • In a functional market either competition would kick in to punish companies for this kind of behavior in the form of subscriber exodus, or a regulator would step in to, at the very least, warn the company away from such misleading predatory behaviour. *

    Um, why did I read that as "In a fictional market..." as if this were a dream in colour?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 8:09am

    The problem with the broadband industry in america is that
    there is little competition,
    most place,s have cable tv, broadband 1 or 2 big companys offering a service .
    And local state regulations reduce competition .
    As long as this situation exist,s the customer will continue to get bad service and extra charge,s added on to bill,s .

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

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 8:14am

    At least the property tax is one that actually exists.

    AT$T also charged mobile users in Portland, Oregon for a 1% "Clean Energy Surcharge" That AT$T doesn't (and never had to) pay."

    AT$T has offered refunds after a class-action lawsuit, but refuses to pay the legally-required penalties and fees.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 18 Oct 2019 @ 8:18am

    Wheee, fees!

    AT&T, coming to you from your government representatives' wallet.

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

  • icon
    John Snape (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 8:33am

    Why not just do what I was told to do when I complained about censorship on social media: make your own broadband service and you can charge the lowest fees that keep the door open. You have a few extra billion laying around to create your own service, don't you?

    And before anyone comes in and says no one told me that (just one of many examples):

    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20190730/10391942678/josh-hawley-wants-to-appoint-himse lf-product-manager-internet.shtml#c1728

    Their platform, their rules. Don't like how they manage content/posters, leave and find/create a platform more to your liking.

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

    • identicon
      Richard Bennett, 18 Oct 2019 @ 8:36am

      Re:

      Fuck, that's hot. I want your babies.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 8:40am

      Re:

      I thought the "Make Your Own Then" reply was on going sarcasm related to some comment that I do not recall.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 8:55am

      Re:

      The fact that you're too stupid to understand the difference between a website and physical infrastructure does not mean you have a valid point.

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

      • icon
        John Snape (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 9:05am

        Re: Re:

        The fact that you're too stupid to understand the difference between a website and physical infrastructure does not mean you have a valid point.

        In other words, you can't respond to my argument, so you resort to calling me stupid. Such a well thought out response you have there!

        Besides, do you think anyone could wrest the users of Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter on the cheap? Do you think any of these three has minimal physical infrastructure?

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

        • icon
          Toom1275 (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 9:31am

          Re: Re: Re:

          In other words, you can't respond to my argument, so you resort to calling me stupid.

          [Asserts facts not in evidence]

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

        • identicon
          TFG, 18 Oct 2019 @ 10:40am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Reason one: Initial outlay of capital investment in the physical infrastructure required to provide Internet Access is very high, and is the reason why regional monopolies exist.

          I have a question for you: Do you, or do you not, believe that the below the line fees implemented by ISPs in this fashion are bad?

          Do you, or do you not, agree with the ISPs in this instance? In other words, what is your actual stance on this particular topic, to wit, the behavior of Internet Service Providers in the current system of regional monopolies and regulatory capture?

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

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 11:12am

          Re: Re: Re:

          No, I call you stupid because the fundamental differences between an ISP and a website you visit are so numerous and obvious that you're either ignorant or trolling not to realise, and I consider both to be on the same level.

          "Besides, do you think anyone could wrest the users of Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter on the cheap? "

          You don't have to. There are many communities and websites way smaller that people find valuable for things those websites don't approve. It's only a problem when you try demanding the freedom and the audience at the same team, which has never happened for truly controversial free speech.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2019 @ 10:20am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I looked for the word "stupid" in the post to which you replied, but did not find it. Why commit such an easily verifiable error?

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

        • icon
          Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 21 Oct 2019 @ 7:12am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Besides, do you think anyone could wrest the users of Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter on the cheap? Do you think any of these three has minimal physical infrastructure?

          Yet other social networks exist.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 8:47am

    One, advertising one rate then charging something else is false advertising.

    Advertising one rate then charging something else is fraud.

    Contracting for services for one price when you knowingly intend to charge a different price is fraud ("obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises" - https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1341)

    Advertising any fraudulent scheme is wire fraud. (https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1343).

    Sending fraudulent bills via mail is mail fraud. (https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1341)

    Fraud includes any scheme to "deprive another of the intangible right of honest services." (https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1346)

    Thanks to mandatory binding arbitration, AT&T is completely invincible to any consequences for their many misdeeds. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AT%26T_Mobility_LLC_v._Concepcion)

    AT&T's response to this mockery of justice is to say if you don't like it, you can lump it. (https://abovethelaw.com/2017/07/att-claims-forced-arbitration-isnt-forced-because-you-can-choose-no t-to-have-broadband/)

    Everything here is my opinion based on the sources provided.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 2:07pm

      Re:

      Fraud, it's what's for dinner.
      They do not even try to hide it anymore and then want credit for being so transparent.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 8:51am

    Math error

    the property-tax fee was raised from 2% to 6.69%. "So I gotta ask—did their 'property taxes' increase by 335%?

    That's an increase of 4.69 percentage points, i.e., 235% of 2 pp.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 9:01am

    customers get everything they deserve because they do NOTHING except complain! when elections come round, the same money grabbing politicians will be re-elected and absolutely nothing will be done or be allowed to be done because of the 'lobbying' that encourages this sort of thing. add in that because of this lobbying and payments given to politicians, there is absolutely no worthwhile competition in any industry in the USA and as long as the corruption is able to continue, nothing will ever change! enjoy what you have brought on yourselves, customers or actually grow some and use your vote to get the badly needed changes!!

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

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 9:32am

      Re:

      "...the same money grabbing politicians will be re-elected and absolutely nothing will be done..."

      Are there any politicians who are not money grabbing? Until we fix the soft money mess and the ability of lobbyists to donate and/or direct donations the continuum of corrupt politicians will continue. Even then we will have corrupt politicians, there will just be fewer of them.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 2:09pm

      Re:

      "customers get everything they deserve because they do NOTHING except complain! "

      Complained the anonymous poster who was doing nothing except complaining.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 9:55am

    AT&T overloaded their butts in debt, buying/merging with DirecTV and Warner. Now they are having to find BS excuses to raise rates to start paying off some of that debt.

    You knew this was coming. It's been all over Techdirt here in one fashion or another for a couple of years. Last year they decided to end the practice of pro-rating when you terminated an account. They would knock off what you hadn't used for the month from your final bill. Now when you terminate an account, you pay for the whole month, no matter where in the monthly billing cycle you are.

    At that point I discovered a new ISP in town and I abandoned ship for a better ISP just before they implemented it. I get better speeds with about the same cost as previous with no caps.

    It was only a matter of time before AT&T came up with new fees and the same for yet more of them down the line as they attempt to pay of the debt burden they have made for themselves in an effort to grow for growths' sake. Obviously they did not corner the streaming market.

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

  • identicon
    Steve, 18 Oct 2019 @ 9:56am

    And yet people still stay signed on with them. Get real people. Get rid of your tv cable and just get internet. Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, Hulu....so many other cheaper alternatives.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 10:02am

    Worst part..

    Iv done this years ago, and debated What the number are and wher they came from..
    Ask them and the Employee dont know, or will give you a Canned answer.
    Unless you can get past them and onto the managers(probably not, as this isnt even the Company, these are hired phone answer people)
    Its as bad as trying to find a DIRECT email to yahoo..or a phone number.
    99% of the people There only do what they need to do..

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 10:03am

      Re: Worst part..

      you might as well, look at your dog and ask him what they are.
      Unless you can get to corporate levels..He has the best answer..

      Duh, What??

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

  • icon
    nasch (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 10:14am

    Future cable bill

    Internet service: $91.50

    Property tax fee: $6.65
    Lobbying fee: $4.12
    Employee salary recovery fee: $8.70
    Clean energy fee: $6.10
    Dirty energy fee: $9.45
    Heavy internet user fee: $12.10
    Broadband fee: $3.35
    Universal service fee: $2.60
    Fee fee: $4.80
    Because we can fee: $8.25
    What are you going to do, switch? fee: $10.00
    Sending you a bill fee: $5.00
    Customer service fee: $7.50
    Capital expenditure recovery fee: $9.00
    Fixed costs recovery fee: $12.50
    Variable costs recovery fee: $7.99
    Just in case we missed something fee: $25.50

    Total: $275.15

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 3:18pm

      Re: Future cable bill

      Thats page 1...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 3:27pm

      Re: Future cable bill

      Electricity fee....
      (Hey, they have to keep the lights and HVAC on - just in case you call them.)

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

      • identicon
        Rocky, 19 Oct 2019 @ 9:34am

        Re: Re: Future cable bill

        Electricity fee....

        Tsk tsk, it's Electron rent. If you don't return the electrons delivering your data in a timely fashion they'll repossess any data transmitted by said electrons and add a recovery fee for the lost electrons.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2019 @ 10:23am

          Re: Re: Re: Future cable bill

          That's the cool thing about alternating current, the power company sells you the same electrons over and over again.

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

    • identicon
      A Guy, 18 Oct 2019 @ 6:56pm

      Re: Future cable bill

      That's too close to the real total for bills around here. Stop giving them ideas.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 4:23pm

    Making movies is so much funner than watching them!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2019 @ 11:56am

    I'm going to start paying my bill with property tax fee credits

    Since AT&T can add bogus fees to pad their bills, why don't we all just pay with 'property tax credits'...

    You know, we will just take a credit from AT&T's bill for the amount of property tax that we are already paying, since we are paying the property taxes, AT&T won't have to pay them again, so we can just take a credit for the amount of the property taxes.

    So lets see, I pay about $316 a month in property taxes, and my AT&T bill is roughly $150 a month, so I'm showing that AT&T owes me $166 monthly for property taxes. I'll just send them an invoice for the monthly amount and call things good.

    Right? Or perhaps we could pay with 'good intention' credits, you know we always thought the companies were supposed to have good intentions, so we will just pay them with those, since they seem to have a short supply these days...

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


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