Media groups call for crackdown on cable, satellite TV prices

A coalition of media advocacy groups is pressing lawmakers to investigate the billing practices of cable and satellite companies.

“Industry-wide practices, such as erroneous overbilling, equipment rental fees and inflated or unnecessary ‘extra’ charges, are the result of an uncompetitive market structure and all contribute to rising monthly cable and satellite TV bills,” the groups said in letters to lawmakers Tuesday.

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The letters — signed by broadcast advocacy group TVFreedom along with Media Alliance and the Hispanic Institute, which advocate for media diversity — was sent to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Commerce Committee and Subcommittee on Communications and the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Subcommittee on Communications.

Lawmakers should examine the lack of competition in the television marketplace, which allows cable and satellite companies to charge high prices for television programming through difficult-to-understand bills loaded with unexpected charges, the groups said.

“The marketplace has failed to adequately address significant annual increases in consumers’ monthly pay-TV bills,” the letters said. “As a result, consumer choice for video service across the country remains limited and family budgets must bear the heavy financial burden of ever-escalating monthly pay-TV bills.”

The groups also encouraged lawmakers “to more clearly define the federal government’s role in video marketplace truth-in-billing practices,” including having the Federal Communications Commission educate consumers about billing practices.

The letters come as the two committees examine issues in the video marketplace, with a focus on how broadcast companies negotiate with cable and satellite companies under the current “retransmission consent” system.

Broadcasters say they have the appropriate leverage in these “retrans” negotiations to get fair compensation for broadcast programming.

But critics — including some Democrats in Congress as well as public interest groups and cable and satellite companies — say broadcasters have too much leverage in the negotiations, as they band together to demand higher compensation and can “blackout” content if cable and satellite companies refuse to pay the higher prices.

“Given the Committee’s current focus on video marketplace successes and failures … we strongly recommend that the Committee consider fundamental industry-wide reform to facilitate lower monthly pay-TV bills for the American consumer,” the letters said.

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