On December 20, 2019, the President signed into law an appropriations bill that contains the Television Viewer Protection Act (“TVPA”), which imposes truth-in-billing requirements on multichannel video programming distributors (“MVPDs”) and, to a lesser extent, on broadband internet access service providers. These obligations take effect June 20, 2020
The truth-in-billing legislation was adopted following allegations from Consumer Reports that service providers use “hidden fees” to raise prices and disguise the true cost of video and broadband services.
Overview of the New Truth-in-Billing Requirements The truth-in-billing provisions of the TVPA set forth requirements that MVPDs disclose at the time of sale the total charge for multichannel video service, including surcharges and fees, as well as itemize charges on e-bills. Also, it prohibits MVPDs and broadband internet access service providers from charging for consumer-provided equipment. You can find the truth-in-billing provisions on pages 667 and 668 of the December 20 appropriations bill.
Consumer Rights in Sales of Multichannel Video Programming Service
The new law confers rights on consumers, and imposes corresponding duties on MVPDs, regarding the sale of MVPD services.
Transparency Obligation — Before entering into a contract with a consumer for a multichannel video programming service, the provider must provide the consumer – by phone, in person, online, or by other reasonable means – with the total monthly charge for the service selected by the consumer, whether provided individually or as a part of a bundle. If the service involves a promotional discount, the provider must note the amount of the discount and when it will expire. The charge shall include — related administrative fees, equipment fees or other charges, a good faith estimate of any tax, fee, or charge imposed by the federal, state or local government (regardless of whether the charge is imposed on the provider or on the consumer and collected by the provider), and a good faith estimate of any fee or charge that is used to recover any other assessment imposed on the provider by the federal, state, or local government.
Formal Notice Obligation — Within 24 hours of entering into a contract with a consumer for a multichannel video programming service, the provider shall send the consumer by email, online link, or other reasonably comparable means, a copy of the information set forth above. Consumer Right to Cancel — A consumer shall have the right to cancel a contract for a multichannel video programming service within 24 hours of the provider sending the information to the consumer without incurring early cancellation fees or other disconnection fees or penalties
Consumer Rights in E-Billing
The new law also adopts requirements that pertain specifically to e-billing. In particular, if a provider of multichannel video programming service provides a bill to a consumer in electronic format, the provider shall include in the bill –
(1) an itemized statement setting forth the amount charged for the provision of service and the amount of all related taxes, administrative fees, equipment fees, or other charges;
(2) the termination date of the contract between the provider and consumer; and (3) the termination date of any applicable promotional discount.
Consumer Rights to Accurate Equipment Charges
Under the new law, a provider of multichannel video programming service or of a fixed broadband internet access service may not charge a consumer for –
(1) using “covered equipment” provided by the consumer, or
(2) renting, leasing, or otherwise providing “covered equipment” that the provider has not yet provided to the consumer or that the consumer has returned to the provider. A provider may assess charges for equipment that has been returned if the charges cover the period prior to its return.
“Covered Equipment” is defined to include equipment (such as a router) employed on the premises of a person (other than a provider’s premises) to provide multichannel video or broadband internet access service.