McCaskill, Portman Press Cable on Fees, Promotions

Veteran cable critics Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) have started out the new Congress by pressing Charter and Comcast on fees and promotions.

That came in joint letters to Charter President Thomas Rutledge and Comcast President Brian Roberts dated Dec. 23.

Portman and McCaskill head up the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which held a hearing on cable fees and customer service last year in conjunction with a report it issued at the same time. Both the report and the hearing were rough on MPVDS, who pledged to do better.

In a joint release Tuesday (Jan. 3), McCaskill and Portman said they were pressing Charter and Comcast over what they characterized as "the misleading placement of fees on customers’ bills, and inadequate advertising disclosure for service promotions."

They want more information on both from both companies.

Citing the hearing in the last Congress, they said in letters to the two companies that, as they signaled in the hearing, they thought that using separate line items like the "broadcast TV surcharge" for retrans fees or "Regional Sports Network Fees" charge for the cost of that programming "obscured" the real cost of programming when it was grouped with regulatory fee line items and charges.

"[N]o federal, state or local government levies the Broadcast TV Surcharge or Regional Sports Network Fee, which are charged entirely at the discretion of [Charter/Time Warner or Comcast]," they said.

They also said they had gotten insufficient answers on how and whether they promoted the non-promotional price of service to customers.

They said they want copies of online and paper bills and service orders as well as a briefing on any changes in ad or billing practices prompted by the hearing.

“Charter provides its customers with simple, easy to understand bills that inform customers what they are paying for," the company said in a statement. "In addition, Charter doesn’t charge many additional fees common in the industry such as modem lease fees and early termination fees."

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.