The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering new rules aimed at bringing greater transparency on the various costs that go into monthly cable and satellite TV bills.

The initiative is being pushed by FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel in an effort to give traditional pay-TV service subscribers better understanding of just how much they are paying each month as a result of ever-increasing fees for retransmitted broadcast-TV channels and regional sports networks. Multi-channel video programming distributors are being forced to pay these escalating fees to keep popular services on their platforms.

The FCC already requires providers disclose to consumers broadband “nutrition” labels, including fees, but not in monthly bills.

It is hoped this will help subscribers more easily compare the cost of traditional video with the prices asked by alternatives like streaming services while preventing service providers from hiding other fees they may be charging.

Rosenworcel is asking the other commissioners to consider a mandate that satellite providers specify an “all-in” price for video service both in promotional materials and on subscribers’ monthly bills.

Along with the itemized retransmission and sports-net fees, the proposed “all in” price disclosure would require additional programming-related fees be listed clearly as line item costs.

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Rosenworcel has stated the intention of the action is to eliminate any possibly vague or misleading charges listed as “taxes, fees or surcharges.”

“Consumers deserve to know what exactly they are paying for when they sign up for a cable or
broadcast satellite subscription. No one likes surprises on their bill, especially families on tight budgets,” Rosenworcel said in a publicly posted statement on the proposal. “We’re working to make it so the advertised price for a service is the price you pay when your bill arrives and isn’t littered with anything that resembles junk fees. Not only will this reduce cost confusion and make it easier for consumers to compare services, but this proposal will also increase competition among cable and broadcast satellite providers through improved price transparency.”

The Commission is considering whether the all-in pricing directive would allow consumers to more easily shop for the best deals available among the different multi-channel TV service provider options — including streaming, telco, satellite etc — instead of the single cable provider that generally has an exclusive or near-exclusive hold on each market.

The measure is currently deadlocked, and will require at least one Republican vote for approval, but may be moving toward getting a public commentary period.

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By Greg Tarr

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