The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has invited comments as to whether it should grant a six-month extension of time for Multichannel Video Program Distributors (“MVPDs”) to comply with the “Right to Transparency” provisions of the Television Viewer Protection Act of 2019 (“TVPA”). This proceeding will be a quick one, with Comments due April 6, and Replies due April 13, perhaps portending the anticipated outcome.
The quoting of prices and the format of MVPD bills has been a point of some contention in the regulatory space. MVPDs note that rapidly increasing costs for retransmission consent from broadcasters, fees payable for the right to carry non-broadcast channels, franchise fees, and taxes justify various charges they impose on consumers on top of the MVPD’s basic fee for service. Consumers, on the other hand, screech “I have to pay HOW MUCH every month? That’s not what you advertised!”
Congress addressed the pricing problem in the TVPA by requiring MVPDs, before entering into a contract with a consumer, to state the full monthly charge that will be on the bill – that means including everything – service fee, broadcast fee, sports fee, equipment rental fee, franchise fee, tax, administrative fee, paper billing fee – whatever adds up to the actual amount that the consumer will have to pay. If the amount quoted includes any promotional discounts, the amounts of the discounts and when they expire must be disclosed. Consumers must be given the right to cancel an order within 24 hours after the required full disclosure has been delivered.
The TVPA also states that consumers may not be charged for using equipment that the MVPD did not provide and, for MVPD-provided equipment, the monthly charge must be pro-rated as of the date when the consumer returns the equipment.
The transparency requirements are scheduled to become effective June 20, 2020, but the FCC has the discretion to grant a six-month extension. Anticipating problems with MVPDs adjusting their billing and customer education systems to take into account all charges (or to “tell it like it really is” if you are a distressed consumer), the FCC has asked whether it should exercise its extension authority.
We would be happy to assist clients in filing comments upon request.