Comcast Sued Over Broadcast TV Fees Line Item

A class action suit has been filed against Comcast over its break-out of retrans fees on customer bills.

Cable operators have increasingly been including a broadcast TV line item on bills so customers can see how much MVPDs are paying in retransmission consent fees for those signals.

Cable operators and broadcasters have been in a pitched battle over the fees, with broadcasters saying they are just trying to recover the true value of their content after years of it being undervalued, while cable operators say broadcasters are using a government thumb on the scale to jack up prices that ultimately are passed on to consumers—hence breaking out the fee.

In the suit, filed in a California district court, a handful of Comcast subs argue that the broadcast (and regional sports channel fees also broken out) are a way to raise the price while continuing to advertise a lower price.

The suit is filled with assertions that Comcast is lying to customers about the price by referring to the charges as government fees or taxes—retransmission payments were created by Congress—with negotiations subject to FCC rules on good faith negotiations.

The plaintiffs say Comcast's representation of the fees is "fraudulent, unfair and intended to mislead."

“We have been working to make it easier for customers to understand what they’re paying for, which is why we list the Broadcast TV and Regional Sports fee separately on the bill and include disclaimers about them in our advertising," said Comcast in a statement on the suit. "It’s also worth noting that the complaint itself demonstrates that these fees are disclosed and that they’re not part of promotional pricing.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.