Deceptive bill charges are getting more attention, but is enough being done about it?

April 21, 2014
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Over the last few years, deceptive business practices have become a rather common tactic by cable/internet companies looking to make a few more dollars off their consumers.

Several days ago, Dish Network agreed with the Washington Attorney General to pay $2 million in reimbursement to Washington state customers. Basically, Dish was raising rates by claiming a “Washington surcharge” on bills but was not advertising this surcharge on the total cost of TV packages price. Dish Network will give existing customers who were over-charged a fee cash credit or access to free programming. Dish will also pay the state nearly $570,000. Customers affected by the fee will get an automatic reimbursement on their bills. If they no longer subscribe to Dish, they will get a check in the mail.

deceptive business practices have become a rather common tactic by cable/internet companies

Dish claims that since the state of Washington raised business taxes, they were allowed to hide the increase outside of the total cost of TV packages. The Washington Attorney General rightfully pointed out that Dish is more than welcomed to recoup that money but they must do it through actual price increases and not hidden fees.

This comes on the heels of AT&T possibly over-billing prepaid customers on a regular basis. As the Washington Post points out, this means that those customers’ credit will be drained at unexpected rates without their knowledge. The Washington Post tried out a test themselves and found that a two-minute phone call was charged for three minutes.

Last March, Georgia-based AT&T subscriber William Fogal noticed that a 29-second call was put on AT&T’s Web site as a “1 minute and 2 seconds” call instead. And rather than being charged $0.10 for a single minute under AT&T’s advertised rates, Fogal was charged double for two minutes.

A 29-second call was put on AT&T’s Web site as a 1 minute and 2 seconds call

In January of this year, US Cellular had to issue $50 million worth of what it calls “reward points” to its customer base to make up for numerous billing problems. Many US Cellular customers were receiving multiple bills, having their phones disconnected, and a number of inaccurate and unexplained charges. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in some cases, customers waited at least five months for a corrected bill. Of course, when people started to realize these errors in early 2013, US Cellular issued a statement saying that they had fixed all the problems. Except, it is 2014 and we continue seeing US Cellular issuing credits/points to consumers that are dealing with these billing issues.

Verizon for several years denied the over-billing was even happening, before finally admitting the error

Back in 2010, Verizon was busted for over-billing wireless users through a $2 “data fee.” The over-billing, first exposed by Teresa Dixon Murray at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, occurred whether or not users had consumed data — and even impacted some people whose phones had been shut off. The bogus fee slowly began to gain attention from larger media outlets, the NY Times ultimately quoting a Verizon insider who claimed the company knew full well they were screwing customers over but chose to do nothing about it.

In fact, Verizon for several years denied the over-billing was even happening, before finally admitting the error and settling with the FCC to the tune of $52 million in late 2010. As noted at the time, Verizon got off rather easy with that settlement, considering that some fifteen million customers had been charged at least $2 or more every month for several years leading to a grand total far higher than the $52 million settlement.

Last week, the FCC finally stood up to Comcast and ordered them to separate equipment and programming rates due to complaints from residents in Minnesota. Comcast still charges users $2 to $6 for users who switch to lower-cost packages, something they state is an “addressable change of service fee.”

What do you think of the practice of including ‘hidden fees’ within Internet/cable/phone bills? Should these companies be legally required to detail out all charges on a bill so consumers can make better informed decisions on what services they wish to use?