Wheeler Responds to Cable Bill Queries, Plugs Set-Top Item

In responses to letters from Capitol Hill Democrats—and one high-profile independent—raising concerns about unauthorized charges on cable and broadband bills, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler put in a plug for his set-top box proposal.

The FCC has released Wheeler's response to independent and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and a trio of Senate Democrats on the issue in which he talks about Open Internet enhanced transparency rules and said the FCC does not have a way of determining how many folks have been charged unauthorized fees.

But he also notes his proposal to unbundle the programming streams of cable set-top boxes. That is because the proposal includes associated "robust billing transparency" requirements that would extend to cable modems.

The FCC is proposing to require MVPDs to separate out the charge for leasing equipment currently bundled into the price of service.

The FCC cited that proposal in not putting a modem fee-line item condition on the Charter-Time Warner Cable deal and similar requests in other proceedings, saying it was more appropriately dealt with in the broader set-top proposal.

He said that will not solve all the legislators' concerns about cable and broadband bill transparency, but he says it will give consumers a tool to ferret out error or unauthorized charges.

Wheeler could use some more selling points for his set-top (or navigation device) proposal given the pushback he has gotten from a number of Hill Democrats, as well as Republicans and ISPs and some minority groups and others.

The senators seeking the info included Al Franken of Minnesota, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

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.