Skip to main content

‘Big Four’ networks press Congress to probe Cable/Satellite companies over unfair billing

Amazon Alexa
Image used with permission by copyright holder

TVFreedom, a coalition headed up by the “Big Four” broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX), wrote a letter to leaders of the House and Senate communications oversight committees today, requesting an investigation into the billing practices of cable and satellite companies. Broadly speaking, the networks are accusing cable and satellite companies of ripping off you, the viewer. More specifically, TVFreedom claims that “the negative economic impact of pay-TV fees and billing practices on the American family budget highlights the need for further Congressional inquiry.” The coalition further recommends “that the Committee consider fundamental industry-wide reform to facilitate lower monthly pay-TV bills for the American consumer.”

The principal allegations listed in the letter include cumbersome and hard-to-understand “Truth-in-Billing” (TIB) updates, overbilling, excessive equipment retail fees, hidden “below-the-line” fees, lockdown early termination fees, and unnecessary “change-of-service” fees. Back in late April, TVFreedom wrote a similar letter to eight consumer groups – including Consumer Action, Free Press, and Public Citizen – that went into more technical detail when describing the purported affronts.

Probably the most stunningly grievous offense detailed in the April letter is the estimated $7 billion that cable operators rake in each year from set-top box leasing fees. The report notes additionally that, despite the fact that consumer electronics prices almost always drop over time, monthly cable set-top rental prices continue to rise – it’s the “one area where operators can raise revenue to boost earnings … at a time when cable operators are faced with rising programming costs.” This is one of the biggest factors driving consumer costs higher and higher.

Trying to save money? Yep – there’s a fee for that, too.

The letter goes on to delve into more damning statistics. Under “service commitment arrangements,” subscribers are often forced to agree to pay between $240 and $480 in early termination fees, effectively locking them into paying higher monthly bills filled to the brim with vaguely labeled “below-the-line” fees slyly tucked into customers’ billing statements. Furthermore, analysis by Consumer Reports finds that “consumers’ monthly cable and satellite TV bills have increased at double the rate of inflation in each of the past 15 years through 2012.” The NPD Group has also unearthed a concerning scrap of data: consumers today pay an average of $90 per month for pay-TV services, and research predicts that continuing down this track will yield monthly bills averaging a ridiculous $200. As a result, TVFreedom is calling for a comprehensive series of “Truth-in-Billing” reforms, including expanded federal oversight of pricing and billing practices in the video realm.

Pay-TV operators are also accused of amassing revenue via the classic nickel-and-dime tactic, using “one-time, change-of-service fees that are typically less than $5 as a ‘lock-in’ mechanism for their revenue streams.” The charges tend to crop up when consumers seek to lower the cost of their monthly bills by requesting a change of service to less expensive tiers of bundled programming.

Trying to save money? Yep – there’s a fee for that, too.

While the four big networks are heading up the coalition, the remainder of TVFreedom is comprised of local broadcasters, community advocates, network television affiliate associations, multicast networks, manufacturers, and other independent broadcaster-related organizations. Overall, the alliance seeks to “enlighten the public on the controls they have in place to identify and self-correct billing errors, subpar service quality, and corporate policies that negatively impact their customers.” That’s the politically correct way to put it, at least.

Until recently, it would’ve been safe to assume that pay-TV operators and big broadcast networks were incahoots, but it appears that cable/satellite providers have overstepped their bounds, and networks are pushing back. At the heart of the Big Four’s concerns is their belief that the increasingly-monopolistic service providers are snuffing out innovation and effectively holding their own subscribers hostage as a means to extort greater and greater profits. Ultimately, networks’ profits are on the line, and some form of pushback is inevitable.

 Image courtesy of HconQ/Shutterstock

Alex Tretbar
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Alex Tretbar, audio/video intern, is a writer, editor, musician, gamer and sci-fi nerd raised on EverQuest and Magic: The…
Best Bose Cyber Monday deals: Headphones, soundbars and more
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones.

It's no secret that Bose makes some of the best audio equipment available. One hint is right there on the price tag. Bose products are expensive. Thankfully there are some great opportunities to save money with Cyber Monday deals. We've gathered our favorites below, including soundbars, speakers, headphones and few more more goodies.
Best Bose soundbar Cyber Monday deals

There are multiple options for Bose devices in the available Cyber Monday soundbar deals, including the Bose Smart Soundbar 600, which we described as the best small soundbar in our list of the best soundbars. It provides excellent Dolby Atmos surround sound for its size, in addition to amazing music quality and an easy setup process. You'll have to act fast if you want it or any of the following Bose soundbar Cyber Monday deals though, as stocks may already be running out.

Read more
The 25 best Cyber Monday TV deals on LG, Sony, Samsung, and more
Digital Trends Best Black Friday 65 Inch TV Deals

Cyber Monday deals are live, giving you an awesome opportunity to save on big-ticket entertainment devices like TVs. It's not going to be easy to select your purchase though, so to help you narrow down your choices, here are the best Cyber Monday TV deals for each brand. We're not going to tell you what you should buy, as that will have to take into account several factors such as your budget and preferred features, but these lists should set you on the right course.

Beyond the potential savings, there are some things that stay consistent no matter when you're shopping for a new TV. While 8K TVs have become slightly more accessible, 4K TVs are still the norm, so you should check out our 4K TV buying guide for helpful advice. You may also want to take a look at our list of the best TVs to help you figure out what you want from your purchase. You'll also want to peek into our roundup of the best TV brands to help you select what you want, as TVs from a single brand are generally similar with their operating systems, compatibility with soundbars, and other things to consider.
Best TCL Cyber Monday TV deals

Read more
Best Roku Cyber Monday deals: Save on TVs and streaming hardware
The Roku Class Select Series 4K TV on a media stand.

Roku changed the game with its streaming sticks and boxes. Now any TV can become a smart TV with just a discreet USB or HDMI plugin. If you want to stream your favorite shows from Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video straight on your TV (and that tech isn't already built into it), grab a cheap Roku in the Cyber Monday sales.
Best Roku TV Cyber Monday deals

While some of the best TV brands use Roku for the operating system of their products, Roku has rolled out its own line of TVs. With resolutions ranging from HD to 4K Ultra HD, you'll be able to enjoy your favorite shows and movies with bright colors and sharp details, with prices that start from budget displays and going all the way up to premium screens. These TVs are also excellent for playing video games and accessing cable channels, and our recommendation is to go for the largest model that you can afford -- but consult our guide on what size TV to buy first to make sure that you have enough space.

Read more