Truth in Cable Billing Bills Introduced

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Sen Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have teamed up on House and Senate versions of the Truth-In-Billing, Remedies, and User Empowerment over Fees (TRUE Fees) Act, which would require cable, internet and phone providers to include all charges in advertised prices, and provides remedies for wrongful charges.

The bill would also allow subs to end contracts without early termination fees if their provider raises prices, prevents increases in equipment prices unless that equipment is improved, and requires bills or notifications that bills are available must be e-mailed or the "functional eqivalent" that does not require viewing an online account.

It will also prohibit arbitration clauses for wrongful billing errors.

Mandatory arbitration clauses are contractual requirements that a sub seek private arbitration, rather than lawsuits (particularly class action suits)--to settle disputes with their cable or Internet service provider.

“For too long customers have been surprised each month to find that their cable, phone and internet bills are much higher than the advertised price," said Markey. "The TRUE Fees Act would put an end to these advertising practices that only confuse consumers about the true costs."

“Customers deserve to know exactly what they’re paying for in their monthly cable and Internet service bills," said Eshoo. "All too often they’re sold a service for one price, only to be blindsided by higher bills at the end of the month from tacked on ‘service’ or ‘administrative’ fees. These fees add up to hundreds of millions of dollars each year for cable and Internet providers at the expense of consumers who have little to no option than to pay up."

“Below-the-line fees are one of the most persistent and universal frustrations with communications services,” said John Bergmayer, senior counsel at Public Knowledge, which is a big supporter of the legislation. “This bill is a great way to address them. With this bill, Rep. Eshoo and Sen. Markey are empowering consumers to make smarter choices by giving subscribers the information they need to decide what service to buy.”

The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Tina Smith (D-Minn.). The House version is co-sponsored by Reps. Mark Takano, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Tim Ryan, Earl Blumenauer, Jamie Raskin, Joe Courtney, Donald S. Beyer, Jr., Janice D. Schakowsky, and Mike Thompson.

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.