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Today, Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced the “Truth-In-Billing, Remedies, and User Empowerment over Fees” (TRUE Fees) Act to ensure that pay TV, cellular service, and broadband providers include “below-the-line” fee items in their advertised price for service. The bill also mandates that telecommunications providers clearly explain these fees to consumers as well as notify subscribers 21 days before increasing any “below-the-line” fee. Furthermore, the bill prohibits service providers from charging consumers a “termination” fee should they decide to switch service providers upon learning of any “below-the-line” fee increase, unless the consumer requested additional service first.
The following can be attributed to John Bergmayer, Senior Counsel at Public Knowledge:
“Below-the-line fees are one of the most persistent and universal frustrations with communications services. This bill is a great way to address them. With this bill, Rep. Eshoo and Sen. Markey are empowering consumers to make smarter choices by giving subscribers the information they need to decide what service to buy.
“These fees are deceptive for at least two reasons. First, they mislead consumers. People sign up for a service at one price and then their bill is much higher. People may be used to a few dollars difference owing to things like local taxes, but the fees this bill addresses can be much higher than that. It is not unusual for a customer to get a bill that is $50 or higher than they thought it would be, due to hidden fees and mandatory equipment rentals. That is a lot of money in itself, and it adds up, month after month.
“Second, companies justify these fees with half truths and outright lies. Companies will train their customer service representatives to call them ‘taxes’ or ‘government-mandated fees,’ which is like a restaurant adding $10 to your bill for a ‘health department compliance charge,’ ‘fork rental,’ or a ‘hot water and electricity fee.’
“Even worse, companies are discovering new excuses all the time to break out costs of doing business into new secret fees, so they can advertise fictional prices. Every business has costs, and these should be incorporated into the consumer-facing price, not sprung on consumers at the last minute. Importantly, nothing about this bill would prevent companies from being transparent with consumers about where their money is going. It would only limit a provider’s ability to pretend that it’s charging less than it is.
“There are many competitive and consumer problems with the communications marketplace. But it's unclear how consumers can even assess what options are available to them and to choose services that fit their budgets if companies continue to mislead the public about their true costs. We urge every member of Congress to support this bill.”