Understanding & Lowering Your Cable Bill


UNDERSTANDING & LOWERING YOUR CABLE BILL

As you look over your cable bill, you will find a variety of sometimes confusing line items.  This article is designed to explain what you can expect to see on your bill.

PROVIDERS - First of all, you can choose which provider to use.  There are two basic types.

Cable:  For a monthly subscription fee, you can chose among three cable providers. 1. Comcast service is available in most of Reston.   2. Cox service is available in most of Fairfax County and in parts of Reston.  3. Verizon FiOS service is available in most of Fairfax County. 

Non-Cable:  1. You can choose to receive TV programming via satellite (such as DirectTV) for a subscription fee.  2.  You can receive a limited number of TV programs “over-the-air” for fee, using an indoor or outdoor antenna. 

PACKAGE PLAN

In most instances, cable subscriber will decide on a “bundle” plan.  This involves two or more services, such as TV+Internet+Phone (“triple play”), or another combination such as TV and Internet.  This is the starting point for calculating your cable subscription fee.

The most basic service involves receiving the fewest channels.  You may also have selected a “higher” service tier, going by such names as Expanded Basic, Digital Tier, High Definition, etc.; those tiers add to the basic subscription cost. 

It is important to make sure you are actually using what you are paying for.  For example, if you are subscribing to the “High Definition” tier but do not have a digital TV – or if you watch standard definition channels and not the not high definition ones – then you may be “over-subscribing.”

Finally, if you chose a higher Internet speed, this will add to the cost.  Most cable providers have at least three levels of speed.

PREMIUM CHANNELS & PAY-PER-VIEW

In addition, you may be subscribing to “premium” channels, such as HBO, Showtime, or Starz.  Typically these premium channels are offered at low introductory rates; then after six months or so, the rates increase to $10 - $15 a month.  Premium subscription sports channels also add to the total costs.

If you watch individual pay-for-view or video-on-demand movies, you pay extra for each movie: typically $4 - $10 per show.  This can add substantially to the monthly bill. 

EQUIPMENT

Your cable bill will show charges for equipment, which may be necessary to view your TV programs, depending on the particular setup that you have.  Most often, you will “rent” a set-top box (ranging around $7-9 per month) from the cable company for each of your TVs.

If you want to record TV programs, you use a “DVR” (digital video recorder) instead, costing around $17 per month.  The DVR allows you to watch TV programs later, or you can automatically record every episode of that daily or weekly program.  The DVR also allows you to skip commercials (usually 20-25% for every one hour of TV programming) by using the “Fast Forward” button on your DVR’s remote control.

OTHER CABLE FEES

One cable provider charges an “HD” (high definition) fee, plus a limited amount for a set-top-box, which may include a DVR.  The cost difference between the two is a few dollars a month. Some subscribers choose to pay for an “equipment protection” or “wire protection” plan:  a type of “insurance” or service contract from the cable company for the wiring in the subscriber’s house.

MANDATORY CHARGES

You will also see a host of other charges on your bill.  Most are for small amounts, many being under $5.00, but they add up.

  1. Sales Taxes – This is a Virginia state tax that is applied to the rental of any cable company equipment that you are using, such as one or more set-top-boxes or DVRs.
  2. Communications Sales and Use Tax – This is a Virginia state tax of 5% on communication services for cable and telephone (Internet services are not taxed). 
  3. PEG Fee – This fee of 3% sets out your cable provider’s costs for supporting Fairfax County’s Public, Educational, and Governmental (PEG) access channels, such as Fairfax County Public School’s Red Apple 21 and Fairfax County Government Channel 16. 
  4. FCC Fee – This fee of 8¢ fee per month is mandated by the U.S. Congress and supports the activities of the Federal Communications Commission, which governs the work of cable providers.
  5. Cable Right-of-Way Fee – This is a Virginia state tax fee on your cable provider’s use of the public streets and roads for building and maintaining their cable systems in the public rights-of-way.
  6. I-Net Fee – This is imposed (on Cox bills only) for Cox’s maintenance of Fairfax County’s separate “institutional network” for emergency and other operations, under Cox’s contract with the County.

HOW CAN YOUR REDUCE YOUR CABLE COSTS?

Here, in brief, are a number of options for reducing the total costs of your cable bill:

  1. Change your service tier to a lower service level with fewer channels.
  2. Change your bundle options.  As an example, eliminate your phone service and use your cell phone instead.  (If you have a home security system, you can subscribe to a wireless service for an additional $5 a month, and then a phone line is not required.)
  3.  Determine if you can get a better deal from another provider, if you have a choice of providers and are not under a long-term contract.
  4. Investigate the costs of dividing your bundled services among several providers if it will result in lower costs. 
  5. Negotiate:  tell your current provider you will change to a new provider because you can take advantage of their lower offer for new subscribers, but that you will stay with your current provider if it can do as well or better.  Also tell your provider you want them to provide your DVR for no cost or for a lower rate for the next 6-12 months.
  6. Eliminate some or all of the “premium” services for movies and sports channels.
  7. Rent occasional movies from such services as “Redbox” ($1 per day) instead of paying for premium movie channels.        
  8. If you do not watch a great deal of “live” television, use the Internet to “stream” TV programs (such as from Netflix or Hulu), instead of subscribing to cable TV service.
  9. Alternatively, add an indoor antenna to get free over-the-air programming from local TV broadcast stations.
  10. For seldom-used TVs, use an antenna instead of paying for additional cable outlets.
  11. If you are subscribing to the Internet at a higher-than-base-speed level, decide if you actually need and are using the higher speed.
  12. Evaluate the cost-benefit of any “wire service” or “protection plan.”

BOTTOM LINE 

It’s important to look closely at your cable bill every month.  If you notice a mistake, the first thing to do is to contact your cable company to resolve it.  In the meantime, keep in mind that you should pay a bill in dispute rather than withhold payment.  Otherwise, a cable company may bring a collection action against you, likely resulting in a negative credit report.

If it turns out there is a problem resolving the matter with the cable company, contact Fairfax County’s Consumer Affairs Branch at consumer@fairfaxcounty.gov to file a complaint or call 703-222-8435 to speak with an investigator.    

For cable-specific issues, laws, or regulations, contact the Communications Policy and Regulation Division at cprd@fairfaxcounty.gov or call 703-324-5902.  Many of your questions may also be answered on-line at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/cable.

        A Publication of Fairfax County, Va.   To request this information in an alternative format, call 703-324-5902, TTY 711    Rev. 4-6-13


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