September 18, 2014
Sen. McCaskill calls for consumer protections from abusive pay-TV billing
To reporters covering the Congressional activity related to the Satellite Television Access and Viewer Rights Act (STAVRA), please see this transcript from yesterday’s Senate Commerce Committee markup of STAVRA regarding an exchange between Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia). Sen. McCaskill, who had offered an amendment that would provide greater consumer protections from abusive pay-TV billing practices, withdrew her amendment in favor of the Committee holding a hearing on customer service issues.
Sen. McCaskill: “I just want to take a moment. I had an amendment that I also will not offer today on the same rationale as some of my colleagues mentioned, because of the importance of the reauthorization, but this is about basic consumer protections for pay-TV customers. It is something that this committee needs to take a look at.
“When we passed the cable act in ’92, the intent was for basic customer service guidelines to be applied to cable operators, and for those to be enforced at the local level. But many are abdicating that responsibility and some states like my own, in Missouri, actually passed legislation prohibiting the enforcement of consumer protections for pay-TV customers, leaving customers in my state very frustrated with some arbitrary rules and practices that are being embraced by some pay-TV operators. And frankly, at this point, 30% of the pay-TV market are in-fact satellite operators, which have no rules of the road, no requirement of regulation changes, no minimum requirements for transparency in billing and timely dispute resolution.
“When I put this up for comment on my website, which I do with some frequency because of the subcommittee that Senator Heller and I have in this committee, hundreds of people within 24 hours were talking about their frustration with the billing practices of their pay-TV operators, and I’m hoping that Senator Pryor, and the Chairman and Ranking Member, and Senator Heller, that we can work on a schedule where we would have a hearing where we just get some basic rules to the road…
“Some of you heard me tell the story that I found out that a cable tv bill that I was getting, I was being charged $20 a month for greater speed and when I finally checked in with the cable operator, they said ‘well no, that’s standard now, and everyone gets that no additional charge,’ and I said, ‘well when were you going to tell me?’ and they said ‘well as soon as you asked.’ That’s the kind of stuff that’s going on to consumers right now. Changing the billing practices, changing the rates without adequate notice, and I just think it’s fair … people are spending a lot of money on pay-TV right now, and I think it’s fair that they know what they are being charged and when their rates change and I hope that we can all work together on this important problem.”
Sen. Rockefeller: “Sounds to me like a very very good hearing as we move forward. You understand I hope that I have a lot of sympathy. And I also have a lot of obligations. So let’s declare a hearing, and if I put you in charge of that hearing, it will get worldwide attention.”
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