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Cable fees defined: how your cable company is inflating your bill

cable company

Your cable company is inflating your bill

Cable is a crazy web of bundles, introductory offers, ride-alongs and hidden fees. Our favorite is the bizarre but important-sounding HD Technology Fee. We’ll get to that.

We’re used to paying too much for cable TV and Internet access. We’ve come to accept misleading introductory pricing and the term contracts that come along with it. We’re used to bill creep.

One of the big things that sets Ting TV apart from your cable company is our approach to pricing. We’re clear, upfront and honest about what you pay. With our Internet service, the price you see is the price you pay. That’s $89/mo for gigabit service, plus taxes where applicable.

cable companyThe same will go for our TV pricing. Here are some of the fees you will never see on your Ting TV bill.

  • Broadcast TV fee ($5 on average)
  • Regional sports fee ($3 on average)
  • HD technology fee ($10 on average)
  • Miscellaneous fees (varies)

Many of these fees sound harmless enough, and for the most part, cable companies prey on our belief that if something’s been put on a bill, it’s got to be legit.

In this post, we’re going to break down what these fees are, how cable companies try to sneak them in and why they’re trash.

Cable companies love to pass fees on directly to their customers after they’ve already signed up instead of disclosing them up front as part of the service cost. In other words, that $70 cable package you signed up for is closer to $100 after all the cash grab fees are accounted for. It’s petty and dirty. Don’t believe us? Keep reading.

The HD technology fee

In our research, we came across the very bizarre “HD technology fee.” This is a fee that Comcast and Spectrum add on to their customers’ bills.

Here’s how it works. Broadcasters (aka networks like ABC, NBC, Fox etc.) provide a channel in HD. When you sign up for a service from Comcast or Spectrum, they rent you a set-top box that is HD capable. Feels like you should be able to view a channel in HD right? Not so fast. After that, for “the right to view in HD” cable companies like Comcast and Spectrum charge an additional HD technology fee.

In a nutshell, that means companies are charging for something that is readily provided and that the set-top box you’re already renting is fully capable of picking up. So why they extra access fee? Basically, because they can.

The retransmission fee (or broadcast fee)

Some of you might be familiar with picking up local channels on your own over-the-air (OTA) HD antenna. Pretty much anyone can go buy an OTA antenna on Amazon for like $20, set it up at home and get local channels on your TV for free. Broadcasters blast these signals over the airwaves and sell advertising space at high viewership premiums. That way, broadcasters can say, our signals reach 30 million homes, or what have you.

The signals of these free over-the-air channels aren’t perfect and are subject to the quality of your antenna, the location and placement of your antenna and even weather conditions.

If you get your local channels from your cable company, they’re definitely not giving you a free pass just because you could easily pick them up over the air for nothing.

Broadcasters do charge cable companies for this wired in access to their channels, and they provide their signals to cable companies like Comcast for something like $10 per customer, which Comcast then passes right on to customers. Maybe with a little something extra for the house. It’s not that passing this cost on to customers is wrong. What’s wrong is surprising customers with yet another add-on fee rather than rolling it into the price.

By the way, this fee is on top of whatever you’re already paying for a local channel package.

cable companyThis gets a little messy (and gross) when you discover that Comcast owns NBC. So really they’re doubling down by charging a retransmission fee at all. Retransmission fees are big business and huge revenue drivers. There’s little incentive for big cable to stop camouflaging services that are essentially free. In fact, they rely on people not doing the research or digging into what fees actually mean.

The regional sports TV fee

Next up, regional sports TV fees. These are similar to the retransmission fee we unpacked above. Comcast owns the regional sports networks in many of its markets, meaning that when it charges you for retransmission or broadcast of these channels, they’re double-dipping. Again.

Super specific miscellaneous charges

There are a ton of other fees you’ll want to look into if you’re currently the customer of a big cable company. Beware of official-sounding bill line items like franchise fee, universal connectivity charge and regulatory recovery fee (which is not actually required by any regulatory body).

The list goes on and on.

Just in case the big cable guys are reading, here are a few new ideas for naming BS fees.

Feudal Oversight Charge
NTSC Compliance Fee
Administrative Benevolence Fee
Totally Legit Cash Stockpiling Surcharge

cable company

Feel like it’s time to break up with your cable company?

There’s going to be a simpler way. In towns where Ting Internet is available, we’ll soon have a TV service available. It will be powered by your Ting fiber connection and will be based on the same upfront, honest pricing practices we apply to our Internet service.

Want to do something?
Check out Consumerist’s What the Fee Petition.