Clyburn, congressman ask broadband providers to be up front about service costs

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Congressman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) are concerned that U.S. consumers aren't getting all of the information they need about the actual costs of their wireline and wireless services.

In a joint editorial featured in the The Hill, the pair said that many consumers aren't aware that a number of fees service providers tack onto their bill can drive up the monthly cost of service.

Unlike renting a car or booking a hotel where consumers will be presented with an estimated cost, including taxes and fees, the way consumers pay for telecom service is not as clear.

"You sign up for a service that is advertised at a given price, only to discover that your monthly bill is much higher than advertised," Doyle said. "If you take a look at your most recent phone, Internet, or Pay-TV bill, you'll probably see that in addition to taxes and other government-imposed charges, your bill also includes an array of mandatory, company-imposed fees. These fees are not optional. They are a standard part of subscribing to the service."

Doyle said that the end result of these so-called "below the line" fees is that they can add up "several hundred dollars" for a consumer that signed up for a two-year contract.

Doyle and three other members of Congress sent a bipartisan letter to the FCC in 2014 to investigate ISP billing practices. The members said service providers should make consumers aware of these below-the-line fees before they sign up for service.

Already, the FCC has tried to address the so-called stock telecom service issue.

Through a partnership with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the FCC developed a new set of labels for wireline broadband and wireless Internet services, giving consumers the ability to make price and feature comparisons when they shop for service in April.

Just like the federally required nutrition labels on nearly all U.S. foods, the broadband labels address three main areas: price, data allowances and performance.

"We are calling for the nation's communications providers to lead the way and voluntarily improve transparency and disclosure of these "below the line" fees so that when consumers sign up for service, either online or in-store, they won't have to wait for their first bill to learn what their total monthly costs will be," Clyburn said.

For more:
- The Hill has this article

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