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Senate to Eye Cable Rates, Service

Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, will hold a hearing June 23 at 10 a.m. on the state of the pay TV industry, signaling their displeasure with that state.

“Consumers in every corner of the country share common experiences about fending for themselves against customer service and billing practices by TV providers that are at best confusing, and at worst deceptive,” they said in a joint statement. “For more than a year, we have conducted a bipartisan investigation of the largest cable and satellite TV companies. We believe our hearing will be a big step forward for consumers, allowing them to understand how their TV providers really work and make informed decisions about their video service.”

McCaskill, who formerly chaired the Senate Commerce Committee's Consumer Protection subcommittee, has been hammering the cable industry on rates and customer service for years, including trying to amend STELAR, the satellite reauthorization bill, to include a bunch of provisions to put cable's feet to the fire.

Another veteran cable rate critic, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), is also on the subcommittee. 

According to McCaskill's office, the hearing will focus on billing, fees, refunds and customer service issues and is part of a general inquiry into potential barriers to competition that will extend into the fall.

No witnesses were identified, but they are said to represent more than 70 million subs and more than 70% of pay TV households.

The senators cited the recent American Customer Satisfaction Index survey that found pay TV near the bottom of those industries surveyed, following their previous year's finding that pay TV was tied for the lowest score.

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.