More Charter Customers Now Being Hit With Controversial ‘Broadcast TV’ Fee

Image courtesy of Justice Gustine

As the recently merged Charter and Time Warner Cable finish combining their customer bases, some subscribers are getting their first look at controversial fees that significantly raise their cable bills without being counted as a rate hike.

Charter customers in some parts of Massachusetts are now seeing a new “Broadcast TV surcharge” of $4.47/month on their bill, reports.

“We’ve begun breaking out the broadcast TV surcharge as a specific line on customer statements, as we do in other Charter systems, to reflect the cost of local broadcast TV stations,” a Charter representative told MassLive, declining to elaborate further.

The fee is indeed new for Bay State subscribers, but Charter is being honest when it says it already charges it in other regions. The Charter bill we broke down in 2016 had a $6.05 “broadcast TV fee” on it, for example, and both Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks — now part of the New Charter’s giant footprint — already charged broadcast TV fees as well.

These “Broadcast TV” fees and surcharges have been proliferating across all cable carriers, in recent years. Distributors, like Charter, say they charge these extra fees to recoup costs associated with purchasing the right to distribute local channels. Since the 1990s, local broadcast stations have been permitted to negotiate their retransmission rates with cable companies, and cable companies have been permitted to pass costs through to consumers.

But as we’ve said time and time again, there’s already a pass-through line item for recouping the cost of providing a channel, and it’s literally your entire cable bill, because that’s how cable works. Providers pay networks and channels for the right to put their content in your lineup, and you pay the cable company for the ability to access that lineup.

In November, a Charter customer (originally a subscriber to TWC), filed a lawsuit against the company over the below-the-line fees.

The suit accused Charter of “engaging in a massive illegal scheme of falsely advertising and promising its cable television service plans for much lower prices than it actually charges.”

A week later, Charter tried to defend the fee, claiming it was all in the interest of transparency.

“Our customer friendly approach includes simplified pricing and packaging with no data caps, no modem fee, no early termination fee and no separate USF [Universal Service Fund] fee,” Charter said at the time. “We provide simple to understand bills and want our customers to understand what they are paying for, including the skyrocketing cost of broadcast channels.”

That “simplified pricing” actually ended up being one of the most opaque and confusing of the several real customer cable bills we broke down last year, because with so many valid state and federal charges rolled into a lump sum, it became difficult to compare in any meaningful apples-to-apples way against other providers. And touting its lack of data caps is a bit disingenuous, since it agreed not to impose any until at least 2023 as a condition of having the TWC and Bright House purchases approved.

Meanwhile, Comcast is facing a similar suit over its fees — and even the Senate has grilled cable executives over the existence of these fees.

[via FierceCable]

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