The era of hidden cable fees could soon come to an end.
The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote Tuesday on H.R. 5035, known as the Television Viewer Protection Act, a bill that would require cable and satellite television operators to present the total prices of their services up-front.
“Cable companies lure customers in with a low advertised price but then bury hundreds of dollars in extra fees each year in the fine print,” said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports. “This legislation will help bring fairness and clarity to pay-TV pricing by helping consumers spot and avoid hidden fees.”
Consumer Reports has targeted the pay-TV industry for more than a year in hopes of forcing cable and satellite companies like Comcast CMCSA, -2.03%, Charter Communications CHTR, -0.67% and The Dish Network DISH, +0.30% to be more transparent about their pricing. The consumer watchdog group released a report in October that found the cable industry on average makes $450 per customer per year from company-imposed fees, which equates to a 24% surcharge on the advertised price.
Common fees that cable companies charge include regional sports fees, cable modem and/or router fees, administrative and convenience fees and installation fees, according to Consumer Reports. Currently, these fees are legal. The FCC allowed companies to charge these fees starting in 1992.
The Television Viewer Protection Act was sponsored by Rep. Michael Doyle, a Democrat representing Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, which includes Pittsburgh. The bill would require companies to disclose the total monthly charge for television service to the customer by phone, in person or online, including any fees and estimated taxes. This would apply both to television services sold individually and those sold as part of a bundle.
The bill further stipulates that consumers would then have a 24-hour window to cancel their service free of charge after signing up and receiving the full breakdown of costs.
Additionally, the legislation would require pay-TV providers to include information related to the termination date of the contract and the termination date of any promotional discounts that the customer received in their electronic bill. The bill also stipulates that cable and satellite TV operators could no longer charge customers for using their own equipment, such as their own modem or router for internet service.
This is not the first time legislation has been drafted to put an end to hidden cable bills. Earlier this year, Rep. Anna Eshoo, a Democrat from California, and Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, introduced legislation that similarly would have required all charges to be disclosed to cable, phone and internet customers. That bill also would have required companies to notify consumers of any increase in fees no later than 21 days before going into effect.
MarketWatch contacted Charter Communications, Comcast, Frontier Communications FTR, -1.59% , AT&T T, +0.38% , Verizon VZ, +0.20% and Altice USA ATUS, -0.82% requesting comment, but did not receive immediate responses.