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House Bill To Take Look At Sneaky Below-The-Line Fees
by Karl Bode 09:05AM Friday Feb 28 2014
If there's one thing I've probably griped about more than any other in the now thirteen-plus years I've written here, it's probably buried below the line fees. For years ISPs have buried the ordinary cost of doing business below the line in itemized fees. It's a way to covertly jack up prices without changing the advertised rate. It's also a way to bump prices on those customers under contract or price guarantees you "promised" would have a fixed rate.

Usually the fees make no coherent sense, either. Like the "regulatory recovery" fee, purportedly included to counter the cost of regulation -- for an industry that has consistently and significantly been deregulated. Or the most recent broadcast TV fee cable companies have now been tacking on, which passes on the cost of retrans hikes in a fee despite the fact programming is simply the cost of doing business -- and overall cable rates are already being hiked sometimes twice a year.

Despite this pretty clearly being a form of false advertising and immensely misleading, regulators have remained asleep at the wheel on the issue for more than a decade. Now, in what I think is the first time, a group of Representatives are gearing up to try and pressure the FCC to take a look at the practice:
House Communications Subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), backed Howard Coble (R-N.C.), Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), wants the FCC to open a proceeding on below-the-line fees on wired and wireless phone bills....They said that their own experience from the Web sites of those companies ATT, AT&T, Century Link, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Verizon Wireless, "consumers cannot easily obtain a total estimate of their first month’s bill, including all taxes, fees and surcharges, prior to entering personal information, such as name, social security number and credit card information. Given that the combination of such charges can add as much as 42 percent to a consumer’s monthly bill, we believe that further examination by the FCC is warranted."
Industry, as you might expect, denies that they're doing anything wrong. The FCC, as you might expect, has remained mute on the issue. It should be curious to see if this effort gets any traction, or if the proud tradition of misleading users via below the line fee will get to continue on another decade.

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Jason Levine

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Cost of doing business

The companies keep claiming that these fees are just "business costs", but that's what the monthly fee is for. If it costs me $30 to provide a service to a user and I want to make $10 in profit, I'll charge $40. If my costs rise to $35 and I want to keep my profit level the same, I'd charge $45. But advertising your service at $32 and then adding on $13 in "below the line" fees is sneaky and shouldn't be allowed. Want to break out what parts of your bill are for what? Fine. Do that. But don't advertise your service at a unrealistically low price and then hide additional fees below the line.
-Jason Levine