Comcast under investigation for rising ‘hidden fees’

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Consumer’s Union, the parent company of the reporting publication, Consumer’s Reports, has been investigating Comcast and its Xfinity consumer services division for unnecessary increases in basic costs and fees.

New Street Research analyst Jonathan Chaplin says, “Comcast recently increased its new-subscriber standalone broadband to $90 (including modem), with increases to existing customers to follow later this year”. Those increases could be as much as double the current price, New Street says.

Please note that the ~$90 average cost is for cable Internet access only, and not the added services of phone and TV.

But even worse are the so-called “hidden fees” that are a depressingly standard part of having a cable TV or internet subscription in 2018. When AT&T was spotted tripling its “administrative fee” for wireless customers this week — a move that could net it $800 million in new revenue — the best its PR reps could do is shrug and say that it’s “standard…across the wireless industry.”

Chances are you never expected to pay surcharges like these on top of the advertised price of cable TV or Internet service. After all, broadcast stations and sports seem like essential pieces of what you bought.

To make matters worse, these surprise fees are rising in size—in some cases by 50 percent per year—and, taken together, can really add up. The upshot: The cost of cable service keeps rising, and it’s almost impossible to understand just what it is that you are being charged for.

But Consumer Reports’ advocacy division isn’t accepting hidden fees as the norm just yet. The company has launched a new campaign, called “What the Fee?!” intended to draw attention to miscellaneous administrative, network, and programming fees that are silently jacking up bill prices.

This week, Consumer Reports is planning on delivering a petition with over 100,000 signatures to Comcast’s headquarters. Although given that Comcast’s CEO is legally impossible to fire and the company’s service is the only option for many customers, I’m not sure how much it will care.

“With the proliferation of add-on fees, it’s nearly impossible for consumers to find out the full cost of a cable package before they get locked into a contract—and cable companies count on this,” says Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union. “These confusing, often misleadingly named charges continue to drive up consumer bills, even if you lock in a promotional rate.”

Consumer Reports also noted that while fees are a trademark of many cable providers, it received the most complaints from customers about Comcast’s Xfinity service. Comcast already is known for having one of the worst favorable customer services reputations in US business.

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