Quantcast
comcast

Comcast's Sneaky Cable Fees Have Jumped 241% in the Last Three Years

The 'Regional sports fee' and 'broadcast TV fee' have made your cable bill bloated.

Karl Bode

On the heels of its shiny new tax break and successful attack on net neutrality, Comcast recently imposed a flurry of new price increases on its customers. Everything from the company’s TV service to the cost of modem rental (now $11 per month) saw increases with the arrival of the new year, a proud annual tradition for one of the least liked companies in America.

Buried in those increases however was an obnoxious and growing trend: the use of below the line fees to covertly jack up the advertised rate of Comcast TV service.

For several years now, Comcast has imposed a bevy of such fees, inspired by the airline and banking industries. The company’s “Regional Sports Fee,” for example, was added to customer bills back in January of 2015. That fee, the company insists, helps it “recover a portion of the costs to transmit certain regional sports networks.”

Back in 2015, this fee was just $1 per month. With Comcast’s latest price increases, the fee is now $6.75 a month—a 575 percent increase in just a few years. Unmentioned by the company is the fact that Comcast owns the regional sports networks in many of its markets, meaning that this money often goes directly back into Comcast’s pocket.

Even more contentious is the company’s “Broadcast TV” fee. That fee was also added to Comcast customer bills at a cost of $1.50 per month back in 2015. With Comcast’s latest increases that fee is now $7.75 a month, an increase of 138 percent.

Comcast’s website claims that the Broadcast TV fee is “based upon the fees that local broadcasters charge us to carry their networks.”

In reality, these programming costs are just part of Comcast’s cost of doing business as a cable TV provider. The company’s taking part of the cost of doing business (programming) and burying it below the line. This practice lets Comcast advertise one rate, then charge something else entirely. It can then claim it’s raising rates at a slower pace than it actually is.

When the fee was first introduced back in late 2014, Comcast insisted the fee was just the company’s way of “being transparent” with its customers.

"Beginning in 2014, we will itemize a portion of broadcast retransmission costs as a separate line item to be more transparent with our customers about the factors that drive price changes,” Comcast argued.

"Combined, Comcast subscribers in most markets pay $14.50 a month for the two fees ... no one is claiming they have risen 241 percent in three years, or anywhere close to that amount"

Yes, nothing quite says “transparency” like not knowing how much you’ll pay for cable TV service until after you get your bill.

Comcast has taken ample heat for the practice from everyone but government regulators, who have traditionally ignored such “creative” billing. The company is facing an ongoing lawsuit for the fees, but has claimed the sneaky fees are clearly outlined in the company’s contract fine print.

Whether that holds up in court is unclear, but the fees continue to annoy paying subscribers, who can be found routinely complaining about the practice over in the official Comcast support forums. The practice also continues to get attention from analysts, who note that Comcast’s hidden fees are soaring at a rate unmatched by other pay TV providers, despite the fact that Comcast owns its own broadcaster in NBC Universal.

Industry analysts Phillip Swann, for example, recently noted that Comcast’s Broadcast TV and Regional Sports fees alone have increased 241 percent in just the last three years.

“Combined, Comcast subscribers in most markets pay $14.50 a month for the two fees which the cable operator, and other pay TV services, say are designed to offset the rising costs of licensing the rights to carry local channels and regional sports networks,” Swann notes. “While those costs have risen, no one is claiming they have risen 241 percent in three years, or anywhere close to that amount.”

Between the broadband and television fees, Comcast imposes an entire universe of higher rates on top of the company’s obvious, above board increases.

Of course these two fees are just on the television side of the equation.

Thanks to limited competition, Comcast has also slowly but surely imposed arbitrary and unnecessary usage caps and overage fees on its broadband subscribers as well. Such restrictions not only make broadband more expensive overall, but Comcast tends to exempt its own streaming services from the limits, making it a wonderful way to hamstring competing services that still count against the cap (aka zero rating).

Between the broadband and television fees, Comcast imposes an entire universe of higher rates on top of the company’s obvious, above board increases.

"We continue to make investments in our network and technology to give customers more for their money—like faster internet service and more Wi-Fi hotspots, more video across viewing screens, better technology like X1 and a better customer experience,” a Comcast spokesperson says of the latest increase.

But those increases should be reflected in the overall, advertised cost of service. Customers shouldn’t have to wait until after they get their bill to understand how much they’ll pay, and the practice only acts to drive more customers away from the traditional pay TV ecosystem, and into the arms of streaming video competitors.

Despite the disgust at this practice, you’d be hard pressed to find regulators from either party interested in doing anything to seriously restrict it. Former FCC boss Tom Wheeler had proposed “nutrition labels for broadband” that would clearly document these fees, but cooperation with the program was voluntary—resulting in most ISPs ignoring the proposal.

The program also leaned heavily on the transparency requirements that were included in the FCC’s net neutrality order, currently being dismantled by industry lobbyists. With the government currently busy gutting nearly all remaining oversight of companies like Comcast, this is a practice that’s going to be getting notably worse before it gets better.