‘Bait & Switch Model’ in Cable & Satellite TV Industry is McCaskill Focus at Oversight Hearing

Senator urges Federal Communications Commission to examine bipartisan investigation scrutinizing thousands of internal documents on billing, customer service practices from top providers

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill today urged the Federal Communications Commission to examine her investigation into billing and customer service practices in the cable and satellite TV industry.

“Senator Portman and I have been doing a bipartisan investigation on the cable and satellite industry,” said McCaskill, top-ranking Democrat on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and the former Chairman of the Consumer Protection panel. “…[My report] talks about a lot of what we found, and if any of you haven’t read it, I hope you will, because it’s startling. It’s startling the practices that have been embraced. And I know you have the authority to issue customer service and truth in billing guidelines for cable, but it’s my understanding you do not have that authority for satellite.”

McCaskill continued: “So I would certainly urge you to listen to the phone call I taped when I called my satellite provider about an item on my bill… they were charging me a maintenance fee for the equipment they own. So I was trying to get them to explain to me, why are you charging me to maintain equipment that you own… and I want you to know they tried to tell me they were going to charge me to quit charging me… so this is the kind of stuff that’s been going on, and I just hope that we deal with the fact that we do not have the authority with satellite to clean up some of these practices, and people are outraged at the bait and switch in the business model that this uncovers. That it is not consumer friendly.”

Audio of the call between McCaskill and her cable company is available at mccaskill.senate.gov/pay-TV.

This summer, representatives from the nation’s top cable and satellite television providers testified before Congress on customer service issues for the first time, as an extensive investigation led by McCaskill and Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio examined thousands of internal documents from the companies, pulling back the curtain on the providers’ internal workings.

Representatives for Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter, DirectTV, and Dish Network, which together provide programming to more than half of all American households and more than 70 percent of American pay-TV subscribers, testified at McCaskill’s June hearing. The companies response to the Senators’ request for information revealed that almost all cable and satellite providers charged a host of fees that were not prominently displayed in advertised pricing, required customers wishing to cancel their service to speak to “retention specialists” who were incentivized to not allow cancellations, and—in the case of two companies—overcharged consumers nationwide by millions of dollars without any system for tracking or refunding those charges.

McCaskill has urged the Federal Communications Commission to protect consumers on a variety of issues—recently continuing her fight to protect consumers from unwanted robocalls by urging the Commission to do more to implement robocall-blocking technologies, and urging action to prevent fraud in Lifeline, a program that provides subsidized telephone service to low-income Americans, but has been a target for abuse.

Visit mccaskill.senate.gov/consumers to learn more about McCaskill's fight to protect consumers.