Charters hidden “Broadcast TV” fee now adds $197 a year to cable bills

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Charter Communications is raising the "Broadcast TV" fee it imposes on cable plans from $13.50 to $16.45 a month starting in August, Stop the Cap reported.

Charter says the Broadcast TV fee covers the amount it pays broadcast television stations (e.g. affiliates of CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox) for the right to carry their channels. But for consumers, it is essentially a hidden fee because Charter's advertised TV prices don't include it.

Charter has raised the fee repeatedly—it stood at $9.95 in early 2019 before a series of price increases. At $16.45 a month, the fee will cost customers an additional $197.40 per year. Charter sells TV, broadband, and phone service under its Spectrum brand name and is the second largest cable company in the US after Comcast.

Charter imposes a smaller Broadcast TV fee on its streaming TV plans, but is raising that charge from $6 to $8.95 a month, Stop the Cap wrote. Charter is also raising the base price of its TV service. "Spectrum's most popular TV Select package is expected to increase $1.50/month to $73.99/month," Stop the Cap wrote. "Customers on a promotional pricing plan will not see this rate increase until their promotional pricing expires."

Charter confirms increase

A Charter spokesperson confirmed the Broadcast TV and TV Select price increases when contacted by Ars today. The Broadcast TV fee change will apparently apply even to customers who are on promotional deals that lock in a price for a set amount of time. Charter told us that promotional prices apply to the "package price," which "will not change until the end of their promotional period." But Charter said that the "Broadcast TV Service Charge is separate from the TV package price," so it can go up regardless of whether a customer is still on a promotional deal.

Charter's statement to Ars said that "programmers annually raise programming fees to deliver the same content, leading to higher costs across the entire industry. The increase we are passing through to viewers is a direct result of these rising programming costs."

Comcast's Broadcast TV fee is $14.95 a month.

No discounts for lack of live sports yet

Cable customers haven't gotten discounts for sports channels even though major sports leagues suspended play over the past few months during the coronavirus pandemic. As we explained in a previous story, whether consumers get refunds will depend on negotiations involving cable companies, sports leagues, and broadcasters.

Charter reiterated to us today that it "will pass through [to customers] any rebates we receive from the loss of live sports during COVID-19."

Charter does not charge a Regional Sports Network fee, while companies including Comcast, AT&T-owned DirecTV, and Verizon charge both the Broadcast TV and sports fees. Sports costs are simply part of the package with Charter instead of being put into a separate fee, and it isn't clear how big any pandemic-related refunds will be.

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