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.

Filed Under: broadband, congress, fcc, fees, isps, rentals


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  1. icon
    Norahc (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 12:25pm

    The next fee to appear on your bill will be a Device Connection Fee to pay for connecting your equipment to their network.

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2020 @ 12:28pm

    Re:

    The story that introduced us the "fee for a router you already have" already described that that solution had been implemented by Frontier.

    This law does nothing useful to the customer.

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

  3. icon
    streetlight (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 12:37pm

    ISPs will find another way to get into your wallet. Raise the price of Internet service by whatever they were charging they can't charge anymore.

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

  4. icon
    Nathan F (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 12:41pm

    If they continue to charge me the rental fee after the law kicks in then I would just turn off auto draft and mail them a check every month for the amount minus the rental fee. When they call me to complain I will point out that they are in violation of federal law and if they want the difference they can take me to court.

    A contract can't be legal if there are terms in it that are contrary to the law.

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

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2020 @ 12:49pm

    Re:

    When they call me to complain I will point out that they are in violation of federal law and if they want the difference they can take me to court.

    Good thought, but more than likely they'll just terminate your service for "nonpayment." Possibly even send you to collections.

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

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2020 @ 12:53pm

    Re: don't pay it

    ...and they will simply terminate your internet service.

    you can sue them in court at substantial cost to yourself; you might win after a year or two, but you suffer without internet for a year or two.

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

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2020 @ 12:58pm

    Re:

    ...if they allow it. Cable companies need to authorize based on MAC address before a modem will work, and they could just refuse for modems they didn't provide.

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

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2020 @ 1:01pm

    Re: other ways into wallet

    yes, there are endless ways a service business could structure its offerings and prices. The hotel industry is infamous for this.

    Politicians can not possibly control all these business options, nor do politicians have the legal authority to do so

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

  9. icon
    JoeCool (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 1:06pm

    Re:

    Charter-Spectrum already does this. They're also proof against this new law because they don't charge extra for equipment, they give you "free" equipment at no extra charge... although everybody pays more.

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

  10. icon
    rorybaust (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 1:42pm

    Sad

    the really sad thing is that in the USA you need a law to stop that , and the sadder thing is that the likely hood of the new law being enforced is probably non existent and sadder again is that nobody is the least bit surprised that this is now the status quo of business

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

  11. identicon
    AricTheRed, 10 Jan 2020 @ 1:47pm

    The sonlution might be Small Claims Court

    I say Sue 'em in small claims court. In many places the claim can be up to $5k & if they have been properly served & don't show up, or send some company rep that has no idea and no supporting doc's you might win.

    This was a situation Sony found themselves in where a big-screen LCD projection TV they made for a few years. Sony had warrantee problems & were later found to know the product was a defective design, they extended the TV warrantee and offered free "Repairs", where the projector unit blue channel would burn-up because of excess UV light from the projector bulb & the screen would gradually go green. (did not bother me playing X-Com, kinda' fit the genre)

    Original purchasers would sue them in small claims court, no one would show or in at least one case I recall they sent a sales-rep that knew nothing and TV owners got paid.

    here is an example of some instances...

    https://sites.google.com/site/sonylcdrptvproblems/small-claims-lawsuits

    I know that this example is particular to a product, but someone could be successful for breach of contract potentially as they are charging you for renting a product that they don't own, so your mileage may vary...

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

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2020 @ 2:36pm

    Re: The sonlution might be Small Claims Court

    Usually one would be subject to arbitration clauses in the "contract" with the vendor, service provider, or OEM. This is not always an option, or not a direct one.

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

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2020 @ 2:41pm

    AT&T, on several occasions through the years in which i paid for their service, would start charging an equipment rental fee even though i bought the equipment from them outright when signing up.

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

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2020 @ 3:46pm

    Re: Re: don't pay it

    “And they will simply terminate your internet service”

    Then I get no internet and they get no money.

    Oh well

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

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2020 @ 4:05pm

    Re: Re: The sonlution might be Small Claims Court

    Point out that the illicity of the contract as designed.
    These animals know what they are don the only language they will understand is the sound of money leaving the register in court.

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

  16. icon
    TKnarr (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 10:39pm

    Re:

    I'd respond by pointing out that their contract is very clear on the subject: they disclaim any responsibility for anything on the home side of the connection pylon and declare it to be the responsibility of the subscriber. So, when I connect a cable modem to the wall outlet, I'm connecting it to my network. And the connection between that wiring and their network? Well, that was done by their technician, not me (and in fact I'm not allowed access to the pylon at all).

    They can still of course refuse to connect your home if you don't use their equipment, but then they have to advertise the price of that equipment as part of the cost or face suits for false advertising (on the grounds that their own rules make it impossible to obtain the advertised service at the advertised price when that advertised price doesn't include the cost of equipment).

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

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2020 @ 2:01am

    Corporations are the worse violaters of laws and human rights.

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

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2020 @ 6:50am

    Re: Re:

    But politicians can still pat themselves on the back proclaiming what a good job they have done, right?

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

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2020 @ 6:51am

    Re: Re:

    MAC address can be spoofed

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

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2020 @ 6:55am

    Re: Re:

    How easy is it to "sent it to collections"? I imagine it is very easy for business while impossible for the consumer, but it would still be worthwhile to attempt.

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

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2020 @ 8:37am

    Re:

    Is this accomplished via their mercenary armies?

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

  22. icon
    nasch (profile), 11 Jan 2020 @ 1:07pm

    Re: The sonlution might be Small Claims Court

    Sure maybe you can win, but then what? Who is going to make them stop charging you the fee? They're not going to pay attention to some county court.

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

  23. identicon
    Iggy, 11 Jan 2020 @ 2:45pm

    What a progressive law. I'm sure this will shake things up in the industry.

    In other news, Bernie Sanders has proposed a $150 plan to build out last mile internet access through co-operatives, municipal internet providers, and open access provider. The plan would also unbundle internet service from content, and break up the large providers.

    https://berniesanders.com/issues/high-speed-internet-all/

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

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2020 @ 4:16pm

    Re: Sad

    nobody is the least bit surprised that this is now the status quo of business

    Yeah, that's called Capitalism. At it's lack of a heart it's nothing but pure greed.

    What? Did you think "buy low, sell high" had a huge asterisk next to it with fine print along the lines of "as long as it doesn't hurt your fellow man"!? Did you think that having generation after generation of people who lived and died by that creed that their society wouldn't become warped and twisted to serve greed unconditionally? That's what Capitalism is. The cardinal sin of greed enshrined as worship to a golden (or green) god.

    It's same reason why you have the likes of Murdoch and his papers attempting to cast blame on 200+ non-existent arsonists for the fires in Australia. It's the reason why Republicans have been attempting to start yet another war for decades. It's the reason why landfills around the world are filling up with toxic e-waste. It's the reason why Tobacco companies (and now vaping companies) fought so hard against doctors and scientists. It's the reason why the US is still the only western power without a universal healthcare system. Etc.

    If this surprises anyone, they haven't been paying attention. Humanity is more than willing to sell itself for money and has been for a long time. The only difference is that as time goes on, the effects of that greed only get worse, with each generation feeling those effects more and more. Should we change this? Absolutely. Will we change this? Probably not. If history is anything to go by.....

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

  25. identicon
    Shmer, 11 Jan 2020 @ 7:59pm

    The law is great, but

    ISPs will come up with some workaround, like providing mandatory hardware junk, that can't be bought or replaced with alternatives. Altice are already doing, by forcing users pay rent for their ONT+router combo, that they conveniently refuse to sell as well.

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

  26. identicon
    Shmerl, 11 Jan 2020 @ 8:00pm

    Re: The law is great, but

    The law should have stated, that ISP can't refuse selling such equipment.

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

  27. identicon
    Wyatt Derp, 12 Jan 2020 @ 6:51am

    Re: Re: Sad

    Was it your intent to imply that non capitalistic governments are devoid of any or all the problems you listed?

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

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2020 @ 6:54am

    Re: The sonlution might be Small Claims Court

    I would like to see cable execs as defendant on Judge Judy

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

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2020 @ 7:24pm

    Re: Re: Re: The sonlution might be Small Claims Court

    That is generally a whole other and very long case, which is why these are not fought very often. Meanwhile you are left to deal with the issues which caused you to file the initial claim.

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

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2020 @ 12:07am

    Another law in favor of customers over ISPs? Damn, Richard Bennett be slippin'!

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

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2020 @ 6:59am

    Re: Re: Re:

    The MAC address of a cable modem? That usually requires a firmware replacement. The DerEngel hacks are like a decade out of date now and I don't know of anything for DOCSIS 3. Nothing I'd expect a "normal" person to use, anyway.

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

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2020 @ 10:21am

    Re:

    Bernie Sanders has proposed a $150 plan

    No, he proposed a 150-billion-dollar plan, which is a much more realistic number.

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

  33. icon
    Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 14 Jan 2020 @ 3:11am

    Re: Re: Re: Sad

    There are no non capitalistic governments, Wyatt. Commies practice state capitalism where the government controls enterprise.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_capitalism

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


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