FCC proposes 'all-in' price transparency for cable, satellite bills

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday introduced a new proposal that would require cable and satellite pay TV providers to give consumers a clear “all-in” price for video services to better understand what they’re paying for on their monthly bills.

Proposed by FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, the rule would apply to marketing materials and consumers’ bills, with the “all-in” price prominently displayed for video programming services.  According to the FCC this price would be inclusive of retransmission consent, regional sports programming and other programming-related fees, shown “as a prominent single line item on subscribers’ bills and in promotional materials.”

The aim is to get rid of the practice of programming costs showing up on consumers’ bills as a tax, fee or surcharge, which the commission called misleading. The FCC said the new pricing format would enable consumers to make informed decisions and be able to comparison shop among different providers, including comparing programming costs from streaming services.

“Consumers deserve to know what exactly they are paying for when they sign up for a cable or broadcast satellite subscription. No one likes surprises on their bill, especially families on tight budgets,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel in a statement. “We’re working to make it so the advertised price for a service is the price you pay when your bill arrives and isn’t littered with anything that resembles junk fees.”

She said in addition to reducing cost confusion and making it easier to compare services “this proposal will also increase competition among cable and broadcast satellite providers through improved price transparency.”

The proposal for video services follows a similar move by the FCC to introduce price transparency for broadband. On that front there’s a forthcoming rollout of a Broadband Nutrition label that require providers to display easily understood labels about internet plans so consumers can comparison shopping.

It also comes as TV providers are facing rising programing costs, including sports fees. Consumers can feel the impacts in two main ways, either through rate increases as higher programming fees are passed onto consumers on their monthly bills, or by disruption to TV services as pay TV providers are forced to drop channels if they can’t agree on carriage or retransmission renewal terms – sometimes temporarily as negotiations drag on, or completely if a new agreement can’t be reached.

DirecTV called out the challenge of rising programming costs this week as it finally reached a carriage deal with conservative news network Newsmax, ending a months-long dispute and black out of the channel on the pay TV provider’s systems.

DirecTV noted the deal with Newsmax marked the latest resolution of a dispute – something it said is “an unfortunate but increasingly frequent occurrence involving nearly every pay TV and streaming provider attempting to keep rising consumer costs in check.” According to DirecTV, over the past five years the industry has seen at least 140 separate disputes between programmers or station groups against primary distributors.

Looking to curb rising operating costs largely related to programming alongside pay TV industry viewership declines, DirecTV slashed 10% of its managerial workforce in early 2022.