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New Law Will Limit Cable TV Fees, Address Local Blackouts

According to Consumer Reports, the House and Senate have passed a bill that would limit how cable companies charge hidden fees and phantom rentals to jack up bills. Customers have chafed for years at ...
New Law Will Limit Cable TV Fees, Address Local Blackouts
Written by Matt Milano
  • According to Consumer Reports, the House and Senate have passed a bill that would limit how cable companies charge hidden fees and phantom rentals to jack up bills.

    Customers have chafed for years at hidden fees and add-ons that take their low-priced, promotional cable bill and double or triple it. Cable companies will advertise a low-priced package, or tout the fact they have not raised prices in so many months, and then use hidden fees to circumvent the advertised price.

    As a result, Consumer Reports has been lobbying for laws that would limit how the cable companies operate and the fees they can charge.

    “People across the country are fed up with all of the extra fees they pay each month that keep growing more costly year after year,” said Jonathan Schwantes, Consumer Reports’ senior policy counsel. “Cable companies shouldn’t be allowed to disguise the true cost of service by charging a long list of add-on fees that aren’t clearly disclosed when customers sign up for service. These reforms will bring fairness and clarity to pay-TV billing, so we can find a plan that fits our budget without having to worry about getting stuck paying hidden fees.”

    The newly passed bill—which merely needs President Trump’s signature to become law—will force cable companies to provide an itemized list of fees and charges, and give customers a 24-hour window to cancel without penalty. The bill will also ban pay-TV companies from charging customers for equipment they don’t use. For example, many companies who bundle TV and internet service will charge customers rental fees for an internet router even if they’re using their own and never use the company’s.

    On the downside, the bill only applies to pay-TV companies, as well as companies and plans that bundle pay-TV with internet service. It does not yet apply to strictly broadband companies with no pay-TV option, who are just as guilty of these practices.

    Another provision of the bill would also help alleviate local station blackouts that often occur “when broadcasters and TV service providers can’t agree on terms for carrying local or cable channels. The law will mandate good-faith negotiations between the parties during these so-called retransmission consent negotiations.” The bill will also allow satellite TV providers to offer network programming in markets that do not have local broadcasts.

    The legislation is a step in the right direction for reigning in what has become predatory practices by the cable TV industry. Here’s to hoping the legislation catches up with the broadband industry as well.

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