You probably recall the hearing held by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in June, 2016. The investigation centered around the customer service and billing practices of cable and satellite television providers like Comcast and Charter/Time Warner. The Subcommittee outlined numerous deficiencies and sneaky billing practices as well as a misrepresentation of fees on customers’ bills that “obscured the cost of programming.” At the hearing, the Senate demanded answers and, unfortunately for consumers, did not receive satisfactory ones.
After a scathing review of the service providers’ billing practices, U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the top ranking Democrat and Republican Chairmen of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, continue their mission to expose the underhandedness and dishonesty of some of the biggest cable companies in the United States. In fact, the companies that testified at the hearing are so big, they provide service to over 70 million subscribers, representing more than half of all American households.
In letters written to Comcast and Charter/Time Warner found HERE and HERE, the Senators wrote, “At the hearing, we expressed our concern that [Charter/Time Warner, Comcast] and their competitors obscured the cost of programming by categorizing some programming costs as fees, such as the ‘“Broadcast TV Surcharge”’ or ‘“Regional Sports Network Fees.’” McCaskill and Portman also stated that, “We found that [Charter/Time Warner, Comcast] grouped those fees alongside taxes and regulatory charges. Such placement is misleading in that it suggests to the subscriber that the government requires the cable or satellite provider to impose these charges. As you are aware, no 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].”
This bipartisan investigation has publicly substantiated what many consumers have felt in recent years: the crushing frustration of hidden fees and rampant overbilling. It’s no surprise that, according to a recent American Customer Satisfaction Survey that studied 43 different industries, pay television service has ranked almost at the bottom.
While the Senate Investigation is a huge step in the right direction, the road to sweeping reform in the industry may be a long one. At Billshark, we support the government’s efforts to protect consumers and our mission is to do our part: help our customers fight back, one bill at a time.