On December 20, 2019, the Television Viewer Protection Act of 2019 (new Section 642 of the Communications Act) became law as part of the "must-pass" 2020 appropriations act. The Act, among other things, imposes significant restrictions on the way multichannel video providers (MVPDs) advertise and bill for video and broadband Internet access services, and is scheduled to become effective on June 20, 2020.
Prospective Customer Disclosures
Section 642 requires MVPDs to inform prospective customers at the point of sale of the "total monthly charge" for "covered" (i.e., video) service. This initial disclosure must include:
- The total monthly charge for the video service portion of a service bundle;
- The amount of any applicable promotional discount reflected in the monthly charge for video service, and a statement of when that discount will expire;
- Any administrative fees;
- Any equipment fees;
- Any other monthly charges (e.g., broadcast television fees and regional sports network fees);
- A good faith estimate of any tax, fee or charge imposed on the consumer or provider by any federal, state or local government; and
- A good faith estimate of any fee or charge used to recover any other assessment imposed on the provider by any federal, state or local government.
Within 24 hours of an MVPD entering into a "contract" with a customer – which we assume includes both written and oral agreements for video service – the MVPD must send the consumer "by email, online link, or other comparable means," a copy of the detailed information required at the point of sale.
Subscriber Termination Rights
MVPDs must permit the new customer to cancel any contract within 24 hours of the above notice with no cancellation or early termination fees.
Section 642(b) requires three new disclosures in electronic bills. E-bills now must include:
- An itemized statement breaking down the charge for the video service and any charges for related administrative fees, taxes, equipment fees, or other charges;
- The termination date for any video service contract; and
- The date any video promotional discount ends.
Prohibitions on Certain Equipment Charges
The law prohibits MVPDs and providers of broadband Internet access service from assessing equipment charges on customers who do not actually use any equipment supplied by the MVPD. Thus, for customers who use their own set-top box or Wi-Fi router but no operator-supplied equipment, the service provider cannot assess equipment charges.
MVPDs also may not assess equipment charges if the customer has returned operator equipment, other than charges for any period in which the customer had possession of the operator’s equipment.
The new law will take effect June 20, 2020, unless the FCC exercises an option to extend the effective date for six months if it finds good cause for such extension. In fact, given the complexity of many billing systems, it may be very difficult for some MVPDs to implement these requirements fully in a six-month period.