How many lawsuits does it take to get Comcast to back off of shady fees designed to falsely inflate the company's advertised prices? Good question.
For several years now cable and broadband providers have been using hidden fees to covertly jack up their advertised rates. These fees, which utilize a rotating crop of bullshit names, help these companies falsely advertise one rate, then sock the consumer with a significantly higher-rate post sale (often when locked into a long-term contract). The practice also allows the company to falsely claim they're not raising rates on consumers. They omit that they're talking about the above-the-line rate being charged, implying that anything below the line (where real fees like taxes are levied) is outside of their control.
Back in 2014, Comcast introduced a new $1.50 per month surcharge it called its "Broadcast TV Fee." Said fee was really just a portion of the cost of doing business for Comcast (programming), busted out of the full bill and hidden below the line -- again to help the company falsely advertise a lower price. Over the last four years Comcast has quietly but quickly pushed this fee skyward, this week informing customers that -- alongside numerous other rate hikes like its "Regional Sports Network" fees -- the company's Broadcast TV fee would now be up to $10 per month for some cable TV customers.
While the federal government (FTC, FCC) routinely turned a blind eye to this practice (regardless of which party was in control), Comcast and other cable ops have been hit by a rotating crop of investigations and lawsuits for the practice. Just before Christmas, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson joined the festivities, announcing that her office had filed suit against Comcast for "charging customers more than it promised for cable television packages, charging for unordered equipment and services, and not delivering prepaid Visa cards promised in its promotions."
The AG's office is quick to point out that Comcast enjoys falsely telling complaining customers that the bogus fees it uses to covertly raise rates are the fault of the federal government:
"Comcast/Xfinity falsely told some consumers who questioned these extra fees that the fees were out of the company’s control. For example, it told one customer that “those fees are actually local fees and correspond to the FCC and we don’t manage those okay? Those aren’t up to Comcast.” It told another customer that “we have no control over the fees.” Comcast is not, however, required by any state or federal law to collect such fees, and does so simply to generate revenue.
When criticized, Comcast has routinely tried to claim that adding these sneaky fees then lying about what they're for is just the company's way of being "transparent" with its customers. Denial appears to be the company's response to these allegations as well, despite the fact the practice has now been well illustrated by countless settlements and lawsuits.
In the streaming video wars to come, Comcast could differentiate itself by being clear with customers about how much its services actually cost, using "zero hidden fees" as a marketing point of pride. This being Comcast, the company is likely to instead move in the opposite direction, and just double down on the practice of misleading and confusing its customers in its relentless quest to nickel and dime the lion's share of America.