In the latest salvo in the retrans battles, cable operator
Charter Communications has started itemizing the price increases it says it is
having to pass along to customers because of retransmission consent deals
On its Web site, Charter explains to customers that they
will start seeing a "Broadcast TV Surcharge" in the "taxes and
fees" section of their cable bills. "These local TV signals were
historically made available to Charter at no cost, or low cost. However, in
recent years the prices demanded by local broadcast TV stations have
necessitated that we pass these costs on to customers," says Charter
Charter defines the charge as a "pass through
reflecting charges assessed to Charter by the owners of local broadcast, or
local "network-affiliated," TV stations. It points out that while
some broadcasters have not asked for payment for carriage--the ones who elect
must-carry--but that "other local TV stations require significant payment
from Charter, and it is their charges that are reflected in the Broadcast TV
Federal law requires cable bills to be "fully itemized," including, "but
not limited to," basic, premium and equipment charges. But the "taxes and fees"
section traditionally features things like Universal Service Fund
contributions, E911taxes, sales taxes and other government-issue obligations.
Charter has been passing along retrans payments to customers
already, said a spokesperson, but will not itemize that charge for its
Charter joined with Time Warner and other cable and
satellite operators earlier this year to ask the FCC to fix what it says is a
"broken" retrans system skewed in favor of broadcasters to the
detriment of consumers and their wallets.
"Given cable's well-documented history of raising rates 4-6 times the annual rate of inflation, it seems rather disingenuous for them to now claim their rate hikes are coming as a result of broadcast TV stations, which provide the highest-rated entertainment and local news programming on the cable line-up," said NAB Executive VP Dennis Wharton in response to Charter's move.