On June 20, 2023, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) to require cable operators and direct broadcast satellite (“DBS”) providers to display an “all-in” price for their video programming services in their billing and marketing materials.  The White House issued a press release that same day expressing its support for the proposed new rules, noting that the proposal is consistent with the Administration’s efforts “to crack down on junk fees in order to increase transparency.” 

Brief Background

Federal law authorizes the FCC to adopt public interest regulations for DBS and directs the agency to adopt cable customer service requirements.  In 2019, Congress passed the Television Viewer Protection Act of 2019 (“TVPA”), which revised the Communications Act to add a new section relating to, among other things, greater transparency in subscribers’ bills.  In 2021, the Media Bureau sought comment on what steps multichannel video programming providers had taken to implement the TVPA requirements and whether those steps furthered Congress’s goal of protecting consumers who purchased video programming service.  According to the FCC, the practice of charging consumers “fees” (e.g., regional sports programming fees) that are actually charges for paid video programming services has continued since the adoption of the TVPA.

Proposed Rules and Questions

The NPRM seeks comments on the following four topics: (1) the specifics of the proposal, (2) existing requirements related to truth-in-billing, (3) marketplace practices regarding advertising and billing, and (4) the FCC’s legal authority to adopt the proposal.

  • Proposal details.  The FCC’s proposed rule would require cable operators and DBS to provide an “aggregate cost” (i.e., the total cost of all video programming services, without additional taxes and charges unrelated to video programming) as a “prominent” single line item on subscribers’ bills and all promotional materials that advertise price.  The proposed rule would also permit cable operators and DBS providers to complement the aggregate figure with an itemized explanation.  The FCC requests comment on various issues, including:  whether the term “prominent” is specific enough or requires more detail; whether providers that bundle video programming services with other services are able to readily identify the amount of the bill attributable to video programming; and whether the FCC should consider adopting different requirements or exempting certain materials based on their size.
  • Existing requirements.  The FCC seeks comment on whether any existing laws and protections regulate advertising and billing practices that involve charges for video programming that are listed separately on bills (e.g. taxes, fees, and surcharges).  Specifically, the FCC notes that there could be state or local requirements and ask whether any franchising authorities have regulations or franchise agreement terms about these types of billing and advertising practices.
  • Marketplace practices.  The FCC seeks comment on industry practices regarding service pricing categorization.  For example, the FCC asks if there is a business purpose for characterizing a service rate increase as a tax, fee, or surcharge.
  • Legal authority.  The FCC tentatively concludes that it has legal authority to implement the proposed rule and, moreover, that the proposed rule is consistent with the First Amendment.  The FCC requests comment on its tentative conclusion and legal analysis.

Stakeholders interested in commenting on the proposed rule have 60 days from the date that the NPRM is published in the Federal Register (date TBD). 

Photo of Matthew DelNero Matthew DelNero

Matt DelNero provides expert regulatory counsel to companies of all sizes in the telecommunications, technology and media sectors. As a former senior official with the FCC and longtime private practitioner, Matt helps clients achieve their goals and navigate complex regulatory and public policy…

Matt DelNero provides expert regulatory counsel to companies of all sizes in the telecommunications, technology and media sectors. As a former senior official with the FCC and longtime private practitioner, Matt helps clients achieve their goals and navigate complex regulatory and public policy challenges.

Matt serves as co-chair of Covington’s Technology & Communications Regulation (“TechComm”) Practice Group and co-chair of the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion initiative.

Matt advises clients on the full range of issues impacting telecommunications, technology and media providers today, including:

  • Structuring and securing FCC and other regulatory approvals for media and telecommunications transactions.
  • Conducting regulatory due diligence for transactions in the telecommunications, media, and technology sectors.
  • Obtaining approval for foreign investment in broadcasters and telecommunications providers.
  • Universal Service Fund (USF) programs, including the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunities Fund (RDOF).
  • FCC enforcement actions and inquiries.
  • Online video accessibility, including under the Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Equipment authorizations for IoT and other devices.
  • Spectrum policy and auctions, including for 5G.
  • Privacy and data protection, with a focus on telecommunications and broadband providers.

Matt also maintains an active pro bono practice representing LGBTQ+ asylum seekers, as well as veterans petitioning for discharge upgrades—including discharges under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and predecessor policies that targeted LGBTQ+ servicemembers.

Prior to rejoining Covington in January 2017, Matt served as Chief of the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau. He played a leading role in development of policies around net neutrality, broadband privacy, and broadband deployment and affordability under the federal Universal Service Fund (USF).

Chambers USA has recognized Matt as a “go-to attorney for complex matters before the FCC and other federal agencies, drawing on impressive former government experience.”

Photo of Yaron Dori Yaron Dori

Yaron Dori has over 25 years of experience advising technology, telecommunications, media, life sciences, and other types of companies on their most pressing business challenges. He is a former chair of the firm’s technology, communications and media practices and currently serves on the…

Yaron Dori has over 25 years of experience advising technology, telecommunications, media, life sciences, and other types of companies on their most pressing business challenges. He is a former chair of the firm’s technology, communications and media practices and currently serves on the firm’s eight-person Management Committee.

Yaron’s practice advises clients on strategic planning, policy development, transactions, investigations and enforcement, and regulatory compliance.

Early in his career, Yaron advised telecommunications companies and investors on regulatory policy and frameworks that led to the development of broadband networks. When those networks became bidirectional and enabled companies to collect consumer data, he advised those companies on their data privacy and consumer protection obligations. Today, as new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) are being used to enhance the applications and services offered by such companies, he advises them on associated legal and regulatory obligations and risks. It is this varied background – which tracks the evolution of the technology industry – that enables Yaron to provide clients with a holistic, 360-degree view of technology policy, regulation, compliance, and enforcement.

Yaron represents clients before federal regulatory agencies—including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Department of Commerce (DOC)—and the U.S. Congress in connection with a range of issues under the Communications Act, the Federal Trade Commission Act, and similar statutes. He also represents clients on state regulatory and enforcement matters, including those that pertain to telecommunications, data privacy, and consumer protection regulation. His deep experience in each of these areas enables him to advise clients on a wide range of technology regulations and key business issues in which these areas intersect.

With respect to technology and telecommunications matters, Yaron advises clients on a broad range of business, policy and consumer-facing issues, including:

  • Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things;
  • Broadband deployment and regulation;
  • IP-enabled applications, services and content;
  • Section 230 and digital safety considerations;
  • Equipment and device authorization procedures;
  • The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA);
  • Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI) requirements;
  • The Cable Privacy Act
  • Net Neutrality; and
  • Local competition, universal service, and intercarrier compensation.

Yaron also has extensive experience in structuring transactions and securing regulatory approvals at both the federal and state levels for mergers, asset acquisitions and similar transactions involving large and small FCC and state communication licensees.

With respect to privacy and consumer protection matters, Yaron advises clients on a range of business, strategic, policy and compliance issues, including those that pertain to:

  • The FTC Act and related agency guidance and regulations;
  • State privacy laws, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and California Privacy Rights Act, the Colorado Privacy Act, the Connecticut Data Privacy Act, the Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act, and the Utah Consumer Privacy Act;
  • The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA);
  • Location-based services that use WiFi, beacons or similar technologies;
  • Digital advertising practices, including native advertising and endorsements and testimonials; and
  • The application of federal and state telemarketing, commercial fax, and other consumer protection laws, such as the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), to voice, text, and video transmissions.

Yaron also has experience advising companies on congressional, FCC, FTC and state attorney general investigations into various consumer protection and communications matters, including those pertaining to social media influencers, digital disclosures, product discontinuance, and advertising claims.

Photo of Andrew Longhi Andrew Longhi

Andrew Longhi is an associate in the firm’s Washington, DC office and a member of the Data Privacy and Cybersecurity and Technology and Communications Regulation Practice Groups.

Andrew advises clients on a broad range of privacy and cybersecurity issues, including compliance obligations, commercial…

Andrew Longhi is an associate in the firm’s Washington, DC office and a member of the Data Privacy and Cybersecurity and Technology and Communications Regulation Practice Groups.

Andrew advises clients on a broad range of privacy and cybersecurity issues, including compliance obligations, commercial transactions involving personal information and cybersecurity risk, and responses to regulatory inquiries.

Andrew is Admitted to the Bar under DC App. R. 46-A (Emergency Examination Waiver); Practice Supervised by DC Bar members.

Photo of Jorge Ortiz Jorge Ortiz

Jorge Ortiz is an associate in the firm’s Washington, DC office and a member of the Data Privacy and Cybersecurity and the Technology and Communications Regulation Practice Groups.

Jorge advises clients on a broad range of privacy and cybersecurity issues, including topics related…

Jorge Ortiz is an associate in the firm’s Washington, DC office and a member of the Data Privacy and Cybersecurity and the Technology and Communications Regulation Practice Groups.

Jorge advises clients on a broad range of privacy and cybersecurity issues, including topics related to privacy policies and compliance obligations under U.S. state privacy regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act.