from the because-we-can dept
For several years now, the cable and broadband industry has, like so many industries, turned to obnoxious, misleading fees to help pad their already healthy revenues. The fees, usually tacked on below the line post-sale, aren't just a great way to covertly raise rates -- but they allow companies to advertise one rate -- then charge something decidedly different. Despite effectively being false advertising, this practice has long been ignored by regulators. Companies like Comcast and Charter have, however, been repeatedly sued for the practice.
Two major fees in the last few years have received the brunt of the attention. One being the "broadcast TV fee." The broadcast TV fee is simply your cable operator taking a part of the cost of programming and burying it below the line to help them falsely advertise a lower rate. Comcast and Charter have both insisted this is simply them being transparent with their customers.
Another contentious fee is the "regional sports fee," which functions in just the same way, and as the name implies is just the cost companies pay to broadcast sports content. On its face, this fee was already contentious (given that many cable providers own the local sports broadcaster). But one DirecTV customer actually discovered that you could use a tool on the DirecTV website to determine how much each zip code pays in regards to this fee.
What she found is that there appears to be no rhyme or reason for how this fee is assessed. Users just a few feet apart could pay $0, $2.47, $5.83, or $7.29 in regional sports fees -- despite all having access to the same content. The user even broke down this in practice in Arizona via a handy map:
The Consumerist then went city by city and found the same thing in Chicago, New York, and multiple cities in California. And in places like Philadelphia, the website found that people paying absolutely nothing in fees are often saddled right next to people paying up to $7.29 more per month:
There's no coherent reason for this. It's not because of regional franchise agreements, most of which were demolished when companies like AT&T and Verizon convinced state legislatures to pass state-level agreements when they got into the business a decade ago. Similarly, DirecTV doesn't even offer a regional sports offering in many of the markets with varying rates. What is for certain is that both the broadcast TV fee and these regional sports fees have skyrocketed in very short order. The regional sports fee has jumped from $1 to nearly $10 for some carriers in just the last few years.
Hoping to find out why different people pay such dramatically different rates, the website asked DirecTV and got a complete and total non (and frankly false) answer:
"We sent all these maps to DirecTV, hoping to get a better explanation than the non-answer given to Connie. After more than two days of waiting, the best the company has been willing to provide is “[Regional sports network] content and thus the costs charged by providers vary significantly by ZIP code.”
Yet that’s simply not true. The examples we provided to DirecTV all involve relatively small areas where any regional channels would be the same. For instance, we could find no evidence of any special regional sports channel being beamed only to residents of Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood."
If the cost fluctuation had a legitimate, above-board reason, you'd have to think DirecTV wouldn't shy away from explaining it. Given that this is the least liked industry in America, the other possible explanation is that there's nothing to explain because the entire fee is bullshit -- and therefore so is its implementation. In that case, why not charge everybody the same, uniform rate? Are some neighborhoods not being charged the fee to improve overall subscription rates? Follow up questions to DirecTV were subsequently ignored, suggesting there certainly is a reason -- just not one DirecTV wants to share with you.