A new proposal targeting hidden fees charged by cable and satellite companies could force TV providers to clearly list their “all-in” prices.
The proposal announced today by Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel would require cable and direct-broadcast satellite providers to “state the total cost of video programming service clearly and prominently, including broadcast retransmission consent, regional sports programming, and other programming-related fees, as a prominent single line item on subscribers’ bills and in promotional materials.”
TV providers generally advertise a low rate that doesn’t include charges such as the “Broadcast TV” and “Regional Sports Network” fees. Cable and satellite companies say these fees cover the amounts they have to pay for programming.
But paying for programming is part of the cost of doing business—there would be no TV channel lineup without channels, after all. By treating programming costs as separate fees, TV providers advertise rates that aren’t even close to what customers actually have to pay. Comcast, for example, adds nearly $40 to monthly TV bills in the form of Broadcast TV and Regional Sports Network fees.
No word on timing of vote
Rosenworcel’s press release said her “proposal aims to eliminate 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, including the ability to comparison shop among competing providers and to compare programming costs against alternative programming providers, including streaming services.”
It’s not clear when the FCC will vote on the plan. Rosenworcel circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to fellow commissioners, an FCC spokesperson told Ars today. The document is not public.
When an item is on circulation, commissioners can vote on it at any time. An NPRM also isn’t a final step—it would kick off a public comment period and could be followed by a vote on final rules several months later.
Rosenworcel is still leading the FCC without a Democratic majority more than two years into Joe Biden’s presidency. Biden nominee Gigi Sohn withdrew earlier this month after the Senate failed to vote on whether to confirm her nomination.
Broadband rules approved but not in force yet
While Rosenworcel’s new proposal only targets TV providers, the FCC already adopted rules requiring broadband providers to “display easy-to-understand labels to allow consumers to comparison shop for broadband services.” The upcoming broadband disclosures are modeled on nutrition labels.
The broadband labels were required in a law passed by Congress in November 2021. The FCC finalized the plan to implement broadband labels in November 2022, but the mandate hasn’t taken effect yet.
Internet providers with over 100,000 subscribers will have to comply six months after the White House Office of Management and Budget completes a review of the rules as required by the federal Paperwork Reduction Act, the FCC order said. Smaller broadband providers will have a year to comply.