The Consumerist Guide To Understanding Your Comcast Bill

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The Consumerist Guide To Understanding Your Comcast Bill

When you sign up for services — some combination of TV, broadband, and/or phone — from your cable company, you’re told you’ll pay something like $49 or $89 a month… and yet the price you actually pay can be 30-40% or more on top of that, thanks to a heap of sometimes confusing charges and fees. Which ones do you blame the government for, and which are made up by your cable company? One cable company at a time, we’re going to use real customers’ bills to break it down. First up: Comcast.

The below bill was provided to Consumerist by a real-life Comcast customer who subscribes to a triple-play (TV, broadband, and phone) package for the advertised rate of $99/month.

But when you add on the $39.93 in fees they pay on top of that rate, that total soars to $138.93, almost 40% more than the stated price for their bundle.

To better understand each of these fees, we’ll go through the bill line-by-line:

(KEY: The RED numbers [1-9, 12] are Comcast-originating fees; BLUE numbers [10-11, 13-15] are government fees)

XFINITY Bundled Services

#1: Starter XF Bundle

This is the quoted price for the service bundle you subscribe to. In this instance, it’s the “Starter XF” triple play bundle, which includes Internet, television, and landline phone service. On their website, Comcast advertises it like so:

The price for new customers is also $10 less per month than this eight-year subscriber pays.

The price for new customers is also $10 less per month than this eight-year subscriber pays.

This is, in short, the price you expect to pay, and the one you sign up for.

Additional XFINITY TV Services

#2: HD Technology Fee

This is the fee Comcast charges for your set-top box DVR. In this subscriber’s case, it is Comcast’s widely-touted X1, cloud-based, app-running box.

When the FCC says that consumers are paying $20 billion a year in box rental fees, this is the kind of fee they mean.

#3: Additional Outlet Digital Adapter

This subscriber has a second television in their home. Instead of having a set-top box and DVR attached to it, they just have a digital adapter that descrambles the signals so that the TV actually works. The adapter fee is lower than the fee for a full box.

Not pictured: Additional television services, like premium cable channels, which this subscriber does not get.

Additional XFINITY Internet Services

#4: Speed increase: Blast! Internet Promotional Rate

This particular subscriber called Comcast in 2015 to negotiate a better rate and got their Internet speed increased for free as part of that agreement. (The bundle provides for up to 75 Mbps; this customer reports regular speeds of about 150 Mbps.)

A paid speed increase would also appear here; it would just have a fee higher than $0.

#5: Wireless Gateway

If a Comcast customer rents their modem from the company, this is where you’d see that amount. If they use their own modem, there should be no charge here (though we’ve heard countless stories of Comcast customers being charged for phantom modems).

In some states, this is taxable (see #13 below).

Additional XFINITY Voice services

Not pictured: Any specific voice fees incurred, like collect calling or international calls, would appear here.

Other Charges & Credits

#6: Broadcast TV Fee

This might sound like some sort of mandatory fee put on your bill by a state or federal regulator, but in fact, it is just a way for Comcast to raise prices while pretending not to raise prices. It is a $5 increase on whatever TV or bundle price the consumer is paying.

Comcast began adding this fee — initially only $1.50 — to consumers’ bills late in 2013. Nominally, the fee is to recoup costs associated with networks’ carriage contracts. Except, of course, that’s what you’re paying for when you pay for cable TV anyway. So it’s a sneaky way to make that money.

#7: Regional Sports Fee

Again, this might sound like some sort of required regulatory charge, but this fee, just like the “Broadcast TV Fee,” is a way to raise rates while pretending not to raise rates.

Comcast (NBCUniversal) owns and operates several regional sports networks in the areas it serves. Pro sports broadcast contracts cost money. This is their way of recouping that money — whether or not you’ve ever watched a single one of those channels in your life. If your channel package includes any sports channels (which all but the most minimal do), you pay this fee.

#8: Universal Connectivity Charge

The FCC’s Universal Service Fund pays for programs like Lifeline that expand phone and Internet coverage to include more rural and/or low-income Americans who would otherwise be unserved.

The Universal Service Fund is paid into by telecom operators, who are permitted — but not obligated –to recoup that cost from consumers. This is Comcast’s pass-through line-item for recovering its USF contributions.

#9: Regulatory Recovery Fee

In spite of what the name implies, this fee is not required by any state or federal law.

This is a fee that Comcast voluntarily assesses on consumers to “help defray the costs of complying with state regulations,” such as TTY phone service or contributions to state universal service funds.

This, just like #8, is one of the ways in which Comcast passes through the cost of complying with the law to consumers, without hurting the profit they take in through the “regular” parts of your bill.

Not pictured: Any late fees, previous months’ excess payments, credits back to the consumer for returned equipment, installation fees, and the like would appear in this section.

Taxes, Surcharges & Fees

#10: [State] TV Communications Sales Tax

The state where this subscriber lives imposes communications sales tax on cable and satellite television service, as well as on all landline voice services.

Googling “[state name] communications tax” should be the fastest way to find the pay-TV service tax rates in your state. Rates may also vary based on county or municipality.

#11: [TV] Rights of Way Use Fee

This fee is imposed and set by the state where this subscriber lives. All cable subscribers in this particular state pay the same flat monthly fee, set by the state. As with any other sales tax, the business making the transaction is responsible for sending the money on through to the state.

Several states have some similar kind of fee; finding your state’s regulation or actual language will take a Google search through your state and possibly municipal tax, communications, or public utility law, depending where you live.

#12: [TV] FCC Regulatory Fee

The FCC collects annual fees from cable operators; that’s part of where the FCC gets it budget from.

The FCC rules permit — but do not require — cable operators to recover the regulatory fees from subscribers in monthly installments. Technically speaking, Comcast could avoid passing this fee through to consumers. (But nobody avoids passing this fee through to consumers.)

13.) [Internet] Sales Tax

The state where this customer lives does not levy a tax on Internet access itself, because that’s illegal. However, its standard 6% sales tax — like you’d pay to buy items in a retail store — applies to “the sale, lease, or rental of tangible personal property.”

Think the Internet isn’t tangible? Think again: This tax is specifically on the $10 Comcast charges for renting the wireless gateway (see #5 above).

#14: [Voice] Communications Sales Tax

The state where this subscriber lives imposes a sales tax on all landline phone service, same as they do on cable and satellite television service.

Googling “[state name] communications tax” should be the fastest way to find the voice tax rates in your state. Rates may also vary based on county or municipality.

#15: [Voice] 911 Fees

The state where this subscriber lives imposes a charge on every phone line — landline and wireless — to contribute to financing the state’s Enhanced 911 services. The vast majority of states impose a similar fee.

Comcast not your cable/Internet/phone provider? Don’t worry, future installments of this column will include detailed bills from Time Warner Cable, Charter, Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-Verse, and others.

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  1. econobikerredux says:

    #8: Universal Connectivity Charge and #9: Regulatory Recovery Fee are complete bogus fees that should be included in the cost of the service but are not because comcast and other providers (telephone companies w/ similar, automotive mechanics w disposal fees) given to the consumer “ala-cart” to make the actual “PRICE” of the service look competive. The consumer needs transparency in the pricing not the “FEAR THE ASTERISK*” which means extra fees, taxes, etc maybe added to your bill for the services or the consumer should be able to write off the cost of the compliance on their personal income taxes.

    Imagine if you went to restaurant and on top of the meal you had a $0.50 surcharge per person for “foodwaste processing” and a $0.25 surcharge for “dishware cleaning fee”. Would people stand for it?