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The Courts

FCC Orders Comcast To Stop Labeling Equipment Rental a Service Fee 97

Posted by timothy
from the getting-mugged-is-just-a-toll dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The FCC denied an appeal by Comcast, which argued that its practice of charging customers separately for a DTA (digital terminal adapter) -- a converter box that allows cable subscribers with older televisions to receive digital channels, which the company said would be provided at no charge -- is not subject to rate regulation, because it is a service fee. The ruling was issued on March 19." Also from the article: "In an e-mail last week to the Star Tribune, Comcast vice president of corporate affairs Mary Beth Schubert said the case “involved a relatively minor dispute about the way certain items are presented on the rate card but has no effect on overall pricing.” But, [Michael Bradley, an attorney whose firm represented Minneapolis-area franchising authorities in the dispute] argued the FCC’s decision sets a strong precedent for transparency within the cable industry."
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FCC Orders Comcast To Stop Labeling Equipment Rental a Service Fee

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  • by pete6677 (681676) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @01:50AM (#46674363)

    Comcast does not care what the FCC says. They have legislators in their pockets to make sure no real action will ever be taken against them. They will flat out ignore FCC regs and know that nothing will ever come of it.

  • A simple solution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TWX (665546) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @01:56AM (#46674385)
    How about cancelling cable TV and finding something else to do with your time?

    We had cable. "Extended analog cable" if I remember, which was to say, no premium channels, no "digital" channels (this was as DTV was kicking off but was not yet mandatory), so about 80 channels of content, perhaps 60 channels that weren't some variation of an OTA broadcast.

    With eighty channels there were times when we couldn't find anything that we wanted to watch. We would end up watching complete and total crap, because we were paying for it and felt obligated to watch it. One day I realized that I was coming home from work, watching four or more episodes of CSI, and going to bed. Eventually I started seeing the same episodes over again, and realized that this needed to stop.

    We got rid of our cable TV subscription. Still have Internet, still have phone, but now I don't have to pay to find that there's nothing on TV, and since TV doesn't cost me anything I don't feel guilty about not turning it on. I go play music or work on something or read or even surf the Internet.

    Just let it go. Trust me, it will be okay.
    • by Kryptonian Jor-El (970056) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @02:10AM (#46674413)
      Live Sports. The only reason I keep cable is to watch live sports. Until the pirates figure out a way to stream live sports in high quality, I'll be sticking to cable. Beyond that, I don't need it
      • by luther349 (645380)
        those are called torrent streams but it does take some digging to find those.
      • by Mashiki (184564)

        Oh...you want to *watch* live sports. Well you could always listen to live sports, I understand it works pretty well too.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by SeaFox (739806)

          Oh...you want to *watch* live sports.

          He could also play live sports. That would be entertaining and a lot healthier than sitting on the couch listening to how someone else runs around with the ball.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Oh...you want to *watch* live sports.

            He could also play live sports....

            You're new to /. aren't you???

        • by Bengie (1121981) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @08:04AM (#46675635)
          Using pure logic is a slippery slope because "fun" is not "logical". While we're on the subject, ethics aren't logical either. Nutshell, don't bring logic into an argument about entertainment. If someone wants something, that's all that matters. He wants to watch sports, then don't sarcastically point out that he could just listen.
      • For the times I want to watch live sports, I go where there is no cost to watch: a sports bar. Living where I do, another possibility is the sports book. The only disadvantge is I have to share the bathroom, and the drinks cost more. I've been off cable for more than ten years. Really haven't missed it.
        • by peragrin (659227)

          Most bars get annoyed if you sit there and not purchase anything to eat or drink.

          So there is a cost, but you can combine it with a meal too.

          Value meals for sports fans.

      • by Amouth (879122)

        I remember a few years ago when they did the black out of the world cup in the US. we had a computer setup back in my area streaming the World Cup in ASCII. It was actually quite good and you could follow the game fairly easily.. At one point we had 3-4 of us standing around watching it..

        http://ascii-wm.net/ [ascii-wm.net]

      • by David Jao (2759)
        wiziwig.tv does a pretty good job of pirating most live sports, albeit only in standard definition quality.

        I think HD quality is overrated. Yes, I can tell the difference. Yes, I appreciate HD quality. But up until 2003 or so, I happily watched live sports in standard definition quality without feeling in the least bit cheated. So I see no reason why high quality is mandatory today.

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        I gave it up because I realized that the $100+ I was saving bought a LOT of beer at the local sports bar.

        And then came the kids, which make watching sports almost impossible anyway, because it isn't purple and doesn't sing or dance. Well, maybe the Ravens. The $1000+ saved over the course of the year means I can justify going to an actual stadium from time to time without grousing too much about the overpriced beers.

        • by Fnord666 (889225)

          And then came the kids, which make watching sports almost impossible anyway, because it isn't purple and doesn't sing or dance. Well, maybe the Ravens.

          Did you know that it burns when you snort beer out of your nose? Guess how I just found out? Thanks for that then.

      • Got live cricket on right now, on ESPN of all places.

        TV is also my radio. Optional background "noise".

        ESPN is my channel of choice because it is the real world, as opposed to fake sit-coms, even worse "dramas", hideously depressing CSI type shows, and trailer trash reality shows.

        My father played cricket, so there is a back story that adds to this live event.

        I've played numerous sports, and love a few of them enough to watch them on TV. For the rest, it is about the human spirt. Amazing feats of e
      • by antdude (79039)

        You can subscribe and watch sports from MLB, NHL, NBA, etc. Although, blackouts suck.

      • by N0Man74 (1620447)

        Live Sports. The only reason I keep cable is to watch live sports. Until the pirates figure out a way to stream live sports in high quality, I'll be sticking to cable. Beyond that, I don't need it

        Live Sports is always the reason that I hear people say that they subscribe to cable. It seems like a lot of people are willing to be abused to get their sports fix.

    • by luther349 (645380)
      yep my personal tv never gets turned on other then when im playing on a console. if my old man didn't watch the main tv all the time i would have cut the cable cord a long time ago. he does enjoy Netflix but hes not quite to the point of using the internet full time to watch all his shows.
    • We got rid of our cable TV subscription. Still have Internet, still have phone, but now I don't have to pay to find that there's nothing on TV, and since TV doesn't cost me anything I don't feel guilty about not turning it on. I go play music or work on something or read or even surf the Internet.

      We also got rid of cable TV. And the landline telephone (we're all carrying cellphones, why bother with a landline?).

      However, we never felt guilty about not watching TV when we had cable. If there was something

    • With Comcast, at least locally, it's cheaper to keep whatever their bottom tier of cable is than to get just Internet service by itself.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by GrumpySteen (1250194)

      We would end up watching complete and total crap, because we were paying for it and felt obligated to watch it.

      That says more about you than it does about television.

      Do you have an unlimited plan for your cell phone? Do you feel obligated to use it constantly and feel guilty about not using it? Probably not.

      Do you have unlimited internet? Do you download large files constantly in order to maximize your usage? Probably not.

      Do you go to all-you-can-eat buffets and eat as much as you possibly can and make yourself sick? Probably not.

      If you get out of the "gotta get my money's worth!" mindset and you'll find that a

      • by Fnord666 (889225)

        Do you have an unlimited plan for your cell phone? Do you feel obligated to use it constantly and feel guilty about not using it? Probably not.

        Do you have unlimited internet? Do you download large files constantly in order to maximize your usage? Probably not.

        Do you go to all-you-can-eat buffets and eat as much as you possibly can and make yourself sick? Probably not.

        Dude, this is /. You're probably 0 for 3 here.

    • I cut the cable about 8 months ago, and (almost as healthy) quit smoking 1 month ago

    • by JRV31 (2962911)
      A few years back when gas hit $4.00/Gallon I added it up and I was paying more for bandwidth than energy. Energy: Gasoline (2 cars), Natural Gas, Electricity. Bandwidth: Cable TV, 2 Phone lines, Internet, Wife's Cell Phone. My first move was to cut the cable (Comcast), then we dropped the second phone line and my wife got a cheaper cell plan.
    • by SebNukem (188921)

      Ah. I've never had a TV. When I go visit friends and their TV is on, I always end up asking myself the same question: how can people pay for this? It's a total waste of time, resources, and money. You have to *pay* *me* to watch TV. And a pretty good sum too. It's mind numbing. I'd rather go to the dentist than watch TV, because I can't stand to be utterly unproductive.

  • by supersat (639745) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @02:31AM (#46674477)
    The summary says it's "a converter box that allows cable subscribers with older televisions to receive digital channels," but now that the FCC allows cable companies to encrypt ALL channels, it's pretty much mandatory. Sure, you might be able to convince them to give you a CableCARD for your compatible TV, but I've heard that they make it difficult to get.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I hate to defend Comcast, but I had to get a CableCard from them for my HDHomeRun Prime tuner and it was very easy. I went to the local Comcast office, handed over my DVRs, and told them I wanted a CableCard. They verified that I was looking for an "M" card (some older Tivo models only support "S" cards apparently, so they keep both on hand), then gave me a card and updated my account/billing information. When I got home I plugged the card into my tuner, called Comcast support, and in under 30 minutes had e

      • by swb (14022)

        How long ago?

        I have two M cards (multiple-tuner) in my HD Tivos and both of them REQUIRED on-site appointments to install, which was completely stupid because all the tech did was put the card in, call the activation center and report some numbers either off the card itself or what was reported by the Tivo's maintenance screen.

        The first card I mostly understood; I got the HD Tivo soon after it came out and cablecard availability and support from the cable companies were both spotty. The Tivo forums were fi

        • The FCC now requires cable companies allow self installs of CableCARDs, whereas that requirement did not exist back in 2010.
      • by unitron (5733)

        I hate to defend Comcast, but I had to get a CableCard from them for my HDHomeRun Prime tuner and it was very easy. I went to the local Comcast office, handed over my DVRs, and told them I wanted a CableCard. They verified that I was looking for an "M" card (some older Tivo models only support "S" cards apparently, so they keep both on hand), then gave me a card and updated my account/billing information. When I got home I plugged the card into my tuner, called Comcast support, and in under 30 minutes had everything working perfectly fine.

        The original Series 3 TiVo (the TCD648250), on the box of which TiVo placed the letters HD rather conspicuously, was released before the specs of the M cards were absolutely completely ironed out and nailed down, so when the M card did come out, it was the same deal as the old "Pentium Ready" 486 motherboards--they built to a spec that got changed on them after it was too late to accommodate the change.

        So the original S3 can use 2 S cards, one in each slot, or 2 M cards, one in each slot, but it can't use j

    • by cuncator (906265)
      Yeah, they sent me a box instead of a cable card. Too much of a hassle to drive all the way to Comcast just to swap it. My main beef is requiring the equipment since they started encrypting all channels including OTA and then charging a monthly amount for it. It's not a large amount but the principle stinks. Picked up an HDTV antenna and am looking forward to ditching cable TV. 99.99% of what everyone in the house watches is via Amazon Prime, Netflix or Hulu now anyway.
  • by mysidia (191772) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @02:58AM (#46674533)

    $0.99 - Convert box rental (Equipment fee)
    $18.99 - Converter box software update and 30-day license installation (Service fee)

    • by mark-t (151149)
      They can probably charge however much they want for it and call it anything they like.... they just have to be up front about the charges that are actually incurred... saying that you pay no rental fee while still paying something every month called a "service fee" is misleading and potentially fraudulent.
      • Cause I pay $15 extra to use an HD box. Because there are oh so many TVs that don't display HD being sold.

        I am of the opinion, FCC legislation should mandate that Comcast cannot charge any surchage fees for anything that is standard, and define standard as at least 50% of the TV sold.

        So in this case, since more than 50% of the TVs sold are HD, they should not be allowed to charge extra for the HD service. They could for 3D. Until 50% of TVs sold offer 3D.

        That's a nice rule of thumb that eliminates being ch

    • by MightyYar (622222)

      Yes, this is the same company that upped the rental for my cable modem. The same cable modem that I've had since I started with them. First, it went from 3 to 7, and finally 8 dollars before I had enough and purchased my own. I can't believe the gall they have to raise the rent on a depreciating asset. I cancelled all but their legally mandated $10 tier for cable while I was at it. Brian Roberts can bite me.

      • I realized before I signed up with comcast that break even point on buy/rent modem is 2 years. Best Buy offers a 2 year extended warrantee on most electronics. It's been 3 years and my modem is still ticking (rent free).
        • Comcast charges $8/month for a cable modem rental, and I bought my DOCSIS 3.0 modem for $80, which puts the break even point at ten months, for me. Considering that they'd likely jack up the price before then, the break even point could well come before ten months.
          • by MightyYar (622222)

            Yeah, Newegg just had a sale for around $60 on a DOCSIS 3.0, so it was a no-brainer when the rent went up.

          • by Macrat (638047)
            Also keep in mind that Comcast keeps the serial number for that modem in their database, so if you try to sell it or give to someone else to use on Comcast they will refuse to activate it and accuse the new owner of being a thief Even when you are no longer a Comcast customer and haven't used the modem with them for over 12 months.
        • by mysidia (191772)

          I realized before I signed up with comcast that break even point on buy/rent modem is 2 years.

          Chances are, if there are any problems --- the technician will blame your non cable-co provided modem.

          Otherwise i'd go grab an Arris Surfboard sb6141 for $80 instead of paying the $8 a month rental fee.

          In my experience... the cable co. overcharges for buying a modem also... like $200 to buy the modem; which is not brand new, but has been in use for over 4 years.

          Also... the ISP's website only lists a sm

      • I had Comcast internet installed last week. Instead of paying $8/mo for a modem I went down to Goodwill and bought a used modem for $4. When I called to activate it I was warned that the modem was EOL and would stop working in "a month or two". I think it'll be a whole lot longer than that, but it only has to last more than two weeks for it to have been a good investment.

  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @03:45AM (#46674635)
    Any business as big and monopolistic as Comcast is going to be completely corrupt. They don't make money, they steal money. This applies to all the big corporations, no matter what business they are in.

    This example shows how low they will go to defraud their users. Just how many cable subscribers are using non-HDTV sets? This is obviously their lowest tier customer class, so it is likely that they are making the least amount of profit from these users. That is why they picked this group to gouge.

    There no real relationship between what they charge and what the delivery cost is. The content charges are just as artificial. The only competition is how the profits from the overpriced service is divided up. The only looser is the customer.

    This situation is normal when there is no real competition. It's identical to the telcos and the banks and the pharmaceutical companies and ...

    No capitalism here, just move along.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      THis isn't the only thing the FCC has ignored, while they claim Comcast shouldn't applying fess to equipment that you can go out and buy since the conversion to digital. The fact remains under FCC law, if they apply a rental fee to any equipment a consumer has every right to by that equipment themselves. However since Concast has monopolized the equipment manufactures the manufactures refuse to sell that equipment, and as far I could tell/find no one else is allowed to make the equipment, so unless by chanc

  • by InsultsByThePound (3603437) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @06:47AM (#46675175)
    I'm never ceased to be surprised by your guys prices never match the advertised price. Surcharges/Fees/Taxes/Tips flying everywhere. About the only time I paid the price adverted was buying gas. And it's not like it's predictable "Oh, things will be 10% over the price", nope every industry from hotels to airlines to cellphones has it's own rules and offsets. Why hasn't there been a consumer revolt yet?
    • by Shados (741919)

      Because aside for landline/cable providers (no competition and "revolts" haven't done a thing), and health care (revolt is a daily thing...), things in the US are overall so much cheaper than anywhere else, its a bit hard to complain.

  • Can you even own a cable box without any rental fees associated with it?

    I know there are cablecard-based devices that you can own, but you still pay a rental fee associated with the cablecard.

    It seems like if they are going to charge you for the service and the device to access the service there should be some way to own the equipment outright without paying an add-on fee.

    • by Bengie (1121981)
      My ISP uses Ethernet based Cisco set-top boxes. You can't buy these devices anywhere unless you're an ISP, and they're proprietary. I must say though, they work great and I'm paying $15/month for Basic 1080p TV + time shifting + Free VoD, which includes 3 of such devices. They have got to be worth $100-$200 per device, and I'm only paying $15/month for 3 of them plus the services. It's going to take my ISP 2-3 years just to break even.

      Wife has to watch Dancing with the Stars and Bachelor/Bachelorette and
      • by mgcarley (735176)

        In many countries (especially in Europe) modems/cable boxes/etc are included in the price of the service - I don't seem to recall being charged extra for ISP-supplied equipment in France, Japan, Finland, Georgia, Ukraine or New Zealand**, but either perhaps I didn't notice or it's simply built in to the price over the term of the contract (that is, it's an implied overhead so it's accounted for by locking you in for 12-24 months)... but typically you're on a term contract in the US as well so there's no dif

    • by jo7hs2 (884069)
      Cable modem yes, cable box no. Makes zero sense.
  • Wasn't Comcast one of those companies that used to advertise their digital phone service by talking about all of the phone companies' junk fees?
  • "13 channels of shit on the TV to choose from."
  • but this doesn't stop them from charging whatever they want. There's no indication the FCC is going to attempt to regulate the pricing for them.

    A real win for customers would be the ability to buy them.

    • by speedlaw (878924)
      Buy them ? You can get a tivo, but there is a rental. The last "non rental" box was the Sony HDD series, which lasted six months in 2007 or so. I surmise there is some sort of "must be individually addressable" rule under the Cable card rules. There have been DVR since then, but they either are OTA only, or rental basis (TiVo). The companies have lobbied successfully to get all signals scrambled-save the OTA local market. Since they used to stream in analog the change to digital was used to restrict t
  • I'm amazed that they sell you a signal. They scramble the signal. They then make you rent a box to descramble it. What a scam.

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