Cable-bill transparency laws haven’t killed sneaky fees

Back in 2019, a notoriously gridlocked Congress managed to agree on at least one thing: Hidden cable TV fees had gotten out of control.

They passed a law, called the Television Viewer Protection Act, that requires pay TV services to disclose all of their extra fees before you finish signing up. The law also says that customers must be able to cancel service within 24 hours of signup at no charge, and that TV providers must notify customers when their promotional rates expire. It also forbids internet providers from charging a fee for equipment that you’ve purchased for yourself.

The Television Viewer Protection Act finally went into effect last month, so I was curious to see how companies like Comcast and Spectrum are dealing the billing transparency component in particular. None of these companies are known for being up-front about pricing; would the new law change things?

Short answer: Not really. Cable companies still advertise prices far below what you’ll actually pay, and some of them avoid revealing their true prices until the last possible moment. Even if they’re following the letter of the law, they’re not quite capturing the spirit.

The ever-expanding cable bill

To see how cable companies continue to advertise prices far below what they actually charge, let’s take a look at Comcast’s Xfinity TV sign-up flow.

Shop for a bundle of internet and TV, and you’ll get a seemingly attractive offer of $80 per month for 200Mbps internet and more than 130 channels with a two-year agreement. But as we know, that’s not the real price.

Clicking on “Pricing & Other Info” reveals a hidden broadcast TV fee (now a staggering $19.45 per month) and a regional sports fee ($14.45 per month). Those fees alone raise the bundle price to $113.89 per month, and you wouldn’t know it without clicking on the fine print.

comcastfees Jared Newman / IDG

Comcast hides nearly $34 per month in fees behind fine print when you choose a plan.

Other fees reveal themselves as you walk through the sign-up process. Even if you plan to use your own streaming device to access Comcast’s cable channels, you still must pay a TV connection fee of $7.50, or $17.50 if you want DVR service. Comcast also charges $50 for installation.

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