The FCC Proposes New Pricing Transparency Rules for Cable Operators, DBS, and MVPDs
Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing to require cable operators and direct broadcast satellite (DBS) providers to display an “all-in” price for their video programming services in their billing and marketing materials. The FCC also seeks comment on whether to apply the proposed rules to other types of multichannel video programming providers (MVPDs).
What the FCC is Proposing
The FCC’s proposed rules would require that cable operators and DBS providers aggregate the cost of their video programming service — that is, any and all amounts that the cable operator or DBS provider charges the consumer for video programming, including for broadcast retransmission consent, regional sports programming, and other programming-related fees — as a prominent single line item on subscriber bills and in promotional materials. This aggregate amount would include “the full amount the cable operator or satellite provider charges (or intends to charge) the customer in exchange for video programming service (such as broadcast television, sports programming, and entertainment programming),” but no taxes or charges unrelated to video programming. However, the NPRM clarifies in a footnote that cable operators and DBS providers would not be required to include equipment costs in this aggregate amount.
The FCC further proposes to allow cable operators and DBS providers to complement the aggregate cost with an itemized explanation of the elements that compose that aggregate cost.
The NPRM raises several specific questions about the proposal, including:
• whether the proposal is sufficient to ensure that subscribers and potential subscribers have accurate information about the cost of video service;
• the extent to which providers are already advertising an “all-in” price;
• whether cable operators or DBS providers that bundle video programming with other services like broadband can readily identify the amount of the bill that is attributable to video programming;
• whether the Commission should require cable operators and DBS providers that choose to itemize portions of their bills to provide a full accounting of how a subscriber’s bill is apportioned; and
• how the Commission should apply the proposal to different types of promotional materials.
The FCC also asks whether the proposal should apply to “other types of MVPDs” and on what basis.
Beyond the “all-in” proposal, the NPRM seeks comment on the following issues, which are most relevant to our cable operator and DBS provider clients:
• The marketplace practices regarding advertising and billing, including whether there is a business purpose for characterizing these service rate increases as taxes, fees, or surcharge.
• Any potential costs that providers or consumers would incur if the Commission adopted the proposed rules.
• Whether a truth-in-billing requirement imposes undue burdens on small cable operators and how to limit any potential compliance burdens on providers, including small cable operators?
Comments on this NPRM are due July 31st, with replies due on August 29, 2023.
If you have any questions concerning the FCC’s NPRM, or if you would like to make your views known to the FCC by filing comments, then please contact JSI Regulatory Advisor, John Kuykendall or Senior Policy Counsel, Farhan Chughtai, or by calling 301-459-7590 during normal office hours.