FCC clamps down on confusing ‘hidden fees’ in your cable TV bill

Cable and satellite TV providers will need to ensure they show the total price of subscription plans as a “prominent single line item” — including costs described as extra fees — under a rule adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday. The FCC says the new rule (pdf) for “all-in” pricing will make it easier for customers to compare prices against competing providers and streaming services by eliminating the “misleading practice of describing video programming costs as a tax, fee, or surcharge.”

“No one likes surprises on their bill,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a separate statement (pdf). “The advertised price for a service should be the price you pay when your bill arrives. It shouldn’t include a bunch of unexpected junk fees that are separate from the top-line price you were told when you signed up.”

The new rules for transparent pricing on video programming will apply to both subscribers’ bills and promotional materials. The FCC says that companies often obscure certain costs and fees, which “causes significant and costly confusion for consumers.” The Commission has also proposed eliminating early termination fees issued by cable and satellite TV providers.

Forcing companies to display their subscription prices more clearly might be a relief to consumers who are sick of being surprised by unexpected additional fees, but cable providers like Comcast, Cox, and Charter have argued that it’s unnecessary. The Internet & Television Association (NCTA) called the ruling “misguided” and claims it will only cause further confusion. 

“Cable providers offer clear and accurate pricing information to attract and retain subscribers, including ‘all-in’ pricing information before signing up for service,” the NCTA said in response to the ruling. “The FCC’s micromanagement of advertising in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace will force operators to either clutter their ads with confusing disclosures or leave pricing information out entirely.”

Disclosure: Comcast is an investor in Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company.

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