FCC Wants More Transparency on Pay-TV Bills

(Image credit: FCC)

WASHINGTON—In his 2023 State of the Union address, President Biden called out corporations for charging what he referred to as “junk fees” that he estimated cost Americans hundreds of dollars per month, and has even proposed a “Junk Fee Prevention Act” to crack down on the practice. 

In concert with the President’s initiative, the FCC today proposed a new rule that it says will help consumers better understand the myriad fees that make up their monthly pay-TV bills. 

The new customer service protections would require cable and satellite TV companies to specify the “all-in” price clearly and prominently for video programming service in their promotional materials and on subscribers’ bills. 

Specifically, cable and DBS providers would be required to state the total cost of video programming service clearly and prominently, including broadcast retransmission fees, regional sports programming, and other programming-related fees, as a prominent single line item on subscribers’ bills and in promotional materials.

The commission says the proposal aims to eliminate what it terms “the misleading practice” of describing these video programming costs as a tax, fee, or surcharge. This updated “all-in” pricing format will allow consumers to make informed choices, the FCC said, including the ability to comparison shop among competing providers and to compare programming costs against alternative programming providers, including streaming services.

“Consumers deserve to know what exactly they are paying for when they sign up for a cable or broadcast satellite subscription.  No one likes surprises on their bill, especially families on tight budgets,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel.  “We’re working to make it so the advertised price for a service is the price you pay when your bill arrives and isn’t littered with anything that resembles junk fees.  Not only will this reduce cost confusion and make it easier for consumers to compare services, but this proposal will also increase competition among cable and broadcast satellite providers through improved price transparency.”

This consumer protection effort is the latest in the Commission’s price transparency and increased competitiveness initiatives, including the forthcoming roll-out of the nation’s first Broadband Nutrition Label, which requires broadband providers to display easy-to-understand labels to allow consumers to comparison shop for broadband services.

Tom Butts

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched digitalbroadcasting.com for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (www.tvtech.com), the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.