It’s that time of year again! It’s time for stockings, decorations, caroling, gingerbread lattes, the smell of evergreen and roasting chestnuts, the feel of a letter from your pay-TV company telling you – again – that your rate for the upcoming year is about to increase.
Wait … what?
Perhaps you forgot – because it’s been a whole year – that in addition to Santa Claus and his reindeer, the holidays are also the time of the year when his not-so-jolly cousin, Cable Claus, comes to town too. Or maybe you just wanted to forget. Cable Claus doesn’t bring fun presents like Santa. There’s no rocking horse or bow-wrapped Mercedes in your driveway. Nope. Instead, Cable Claus makes it harder to buy those things. He delivers a nasty little letter to your mailbox telling you how much your cable bill is going to increase for the upcoming year. If you thought 2016’s rates were too high, 2017 is going to be even more of a disappointment.
You may not have noticed that Cable Claus has already visited you. The letter he delivers might look like one of those useless “privacy updates” we all get – full of legal jargon and confusing data. Even if you read Cable Claus’s letter, you may not understand that your cable prices are about to go up, up and up again, like Rudolph on December 24. Why? Because pay-TV companies have gotten very clever in the way that they increase your cable bill.
You know how airline companies have steadily increased all the fees that used to be simply included as part of your ticket fare? They charge extra for bags (checked and unchecked), food, water and any seat other than a middle seat in the last row. One airline even charges you $10 to have an agent at the airport print out your boarding pass. Basically you have to be willing to fly naked, with no baggage, inside a giant envelope to actually pay just the standard ticket fare these days. Human mail, if you will.
Well, pay-TV companies are equally good at this game. While they have increased their programming package rates at a pace that’s roughly double inflation (congratulations, guys!), they have been steadily hammering their customers with additional and rapidly increasing “fees” or “surcharges” that they often lump together on your bill with government-mandated taxes. Depending on your pay-TV company, these fees could include a “broadcast TV fee,” a “regional sports fee” or an “entertainment network surcharge.” If you are an RCN subscriber in Washington, D.C., for example, you will pay an astronomical $17.85 per month in “surcharges” above and beyond your package price (and equipment charges). And these surcharges aren’t even itemized on their rate card. Instead, they appear in the tiny, tiny fine print. $214 per year hidden in the fine print.
Now, lest you think you’re getting something extra for all those surcharges, think again. All of these fees are for programming – broadcast channels, sports channels, top entertainment cable networks – that you already pay for in your TV package. It would be like the airlines charging you a “pilot fee” or a “pressurized cabin surcharge,” and only telling you after you bought your ticket.
Unsurprisingly, some customers – and their lawyers – have started to notice. Lawsuits against two major cable companies have appeared in the last few months, alleging, among other things, false advertising and billing fraud because of their use of these “surcharges.”
But there is no sign these lawsuits are slowing down the pay-TV companies. Cable Claus continues to drop his “presents” all over the country – announcing even higher fees and surcharges – even for those customers that thought they signed a “price-lock” contract. So be sure to check your stockings thoroughly, boys and girls. You may have gotten more than you wished for this year.