Law banning "rental" fees for customer-owned routers takes effect Sunday

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Broadband and TV providers will finally be required to stop charging
"rental" fees for equipment that customers own themselves, thanks to a new
US law that takes effect on Sunday.
The bogus fees were outlawed by the Television Viewer Protection Act
(TVPA), which was approved by Congress and signed by President Trump in
December 2019. The law was originally scheduled to take effect on June 20,
but Congress gave the Federal Communications Commission leeway to delay
enforcement by six months if the FCC "finds that good cause exists for
such an additional extension."
The FCC in April granted the six-month delay to ISPs, claiming that
providers needed more time to comply because of the coronavirus pandemic.
That decision delayed implementation of the new requirements until
December 20, 2020.
Frontier must finally stop bogus charge
The change is good news for customers of Frontier Communications, which
has insisted on charging $10 rental fees to customers who use their own
routers. As we wrote in July 2019, Frontier claimed it charges the fee to
cover higher support costs for customers who use their own equipment. But
Frontier said at the same time that it "cannot support or repair non-
Frontier equipment," contradicting its own justification for charging the
Frontier took advantage of the six-month delay, telling Ars in June that
it would "comply with the requirements when the law goes into effect" in
December. Unlike Frontier, other major ISPs such as Comcast let customers
avoid rental fees when they use their own routers.
The law's implementation will "put an end to the unconscionable business
practice of charging consumers a rental fee for cable modem routers even
if consumers do not use them!" consumer-advocacy group Public Knowledge
said in a blog post. "This common-sense correction will permit consumers
to continue to use their own equipment, and not be forced to pay for
something they neither asked for nor needed."
When contacted by Ars today, Frontier said it is now "in compliance with
the Television Viewer Protection Act. Customers that are charged for
covered equipment may return equipment and will not have equipment
charges. If a customer uses their own equipment, they may face
compatibility issues with their service depending on the equipment, and
Frontier may not be able to provide technical support."
The new law, passed as part of a budget bill, creates a "consumer right to
accurate equipment charges" that prohibits TV and broadband providers from
charging for "covered equipment provided by the consumer." Covered
equipment is defined as "equipment (such as a router) employed on the
premises of a person... to provide [TV service] or to provide fixed
broadband Internet access service." The companies may not charge rental or
lease fees in cases when "the provider has not provided the equipment to
the consumer; or the consumer has returned the equipment to the provider."
New cable-TV transparency rules
The law also includes a right to transparency that requires TV providers
to inform customers of the total monthly charges, including all company-
imposed fees and a good-faith estimate of all government-imposed fees and
taxes, before they enter into a contract. This notice must specify the
amount of promotional discounts and when those discounts will expire. The
law also gives customers a 24-hour period in which they can cancel new TV
service without penalty.
The new rule won't prevent TV providers from raising prices on existing
customers, even when they're under contract. For years, cable companies
have been regularly increasing the "Broadcast TV" and "Regional Sports
Network" fees that are excluded from advertised prices and requiring all
customers to pay the higher rates regardless of their contract status.
But the new transparency requirement is a step in the right direction.
"For years, consumers have been misled by pay-TV providers advertising
service for one price and then charging another," Public Knowledge Senior
VP Harold Feld said in a press release today. "Until now, consumers have
had zero recourse for dealing with these surprise fees other than ending
service and paying an unfair termination fee for the privilege. Not
Public Knowledge said the required 24-hour cancellation period will help
prevent situations in which consumers sign up for TV service and then
realize, after it's too late to cancel without penalty, "that they'd be
charged hundreds of dollars a year in unexpected fees." Public Knowledge's
blog post also said the law's implementation will help prospective Comcast
customers, though not existing customers:
Importantly, this legislation will go into effect just in time to help
consumers who are considering signing up for pay-TV service from Comcast.
The company recently announced it would be raising its company-imposed
fees like the Broadcast TV Fee and the Regional Sports Fee starting on
January 1, 2021. These skyrocketing fees could cost Comcast customers an
additional $78 a year. While the TVPA doesn't do much to help existing
pay-TV customers, who will now be forking over enough money for a month or
two of car insurance despite not knowing they would be doing so when
purchasing their service, it would help new customers avoid signing up for
a service they can't afford.
While the ban on charging rental fees for equipment that customers own
applies to both TV and broadband service, the other transparency
requirements affect only TV service. "Although the TVPA helps new
customers avoid signing up for a budget-busting pay-TV service marketed at
a significantly lower price, it doesn't extend to Internet service," Feld
said. "We urge Congress to expand the requirements to Internet service
providers so no consumer gets surprised by—and locked into
paying—outrageous telecommunication fees."
Papageno Ars Tribunus Angusticlavius et Subscriptor
DEC 18, 2020 9:48 AM
Unbelievable that these "rental" fees were ever a thing. The chutzpah, I
Up +201 (+203 / -2) Down
6706 posts | registered 5/3/2007
gh0sti Smack-Fu Master, in training
DEC 18, 2020 9:49 AM
I had to fight my ISP and told them since I work in IT I know what I am
doing. They dropped the charge right there. I have to spend rental fee on
the fiber conversion but I have my own router Dream Machine running my
network and I don't have to pay extra for a rental fee.
Up +70 (+72 / -2) Down
21 posts | registered 5/12/2020
Scifigod Ars Praefectus et Subscriptor
DEC 18, 2020 9:50 AM
Thanks to all the local options stemming from vigorous competition I can
see how they got away with it.
You can basically either choose to sign up with frontier and deal with
their rental fee or go fuck yourself without internet/cable. Just marvel
at all that consumer choice!
Up +204 (+206 / -2) Down
3134 posts | registered 9/4/2005
MEhle Ars Centurion
DEC 18, 2020 9:51 AM
In unrelated news, Frontier announced a general rate increase of $10. /s
Thank goodness my town has decided to deploy its own fiber network. It
can't come soon enough.
Up +172 (+172 /
0) Down
227 posts | registered 6/23/2010
Shmerl Ars Scholae Palatinae
DEC 18, 2020 9:51 AM
What about some like Altice who force users to use their router paired
with an ONT but also refuse to sell it and force paying constant renting
fee for it? It should also be illegal.
Last edited by Shmerl on Fri Dec 18, 2020 12:51 pm
Up +93 (+95 / -2) Down
1373 posts | registered 3/1/2016
necrosis Ars Scholae Palatinae
DEC 18, 2020 9:51 AM
Jesus it is sad we have to make laws like this.
If I was forced to use the FIOS router with the ONT... that thing is
garbage with no antenna.
Up +44 (+47 / -3) Down
1070 posts | registered 11/13/2007
Nowicki Ars Tribunus Militum et Subscriptor
DEC 18, 2020 9:56 AM
Next month
unconfirmed modem device support fee: $12
Just call provide S/N, MAC, firmware version, and your metaphysical true
name to avoid this cost
Up +50 (+52 / -2) Down
4918 posts | registered 1/6/2015
jdale Ars Tribunus Angusticlavius et Subscriptor
DEC 18, 2020 9:57 AM
These fees were fraud, they should have been illegal from the start.
Also, the "price" for something should include all mandatory charges. It
doesn't matter how you label it, if you have to pay it, it's part of the
price. Everything else is fraud.
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Leroy N. Soetoro
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