As they called for the FCC’s cooperation “in empowering Americans with more information about ever-increasing rates for cable and Internet services and how providers calculate consumers’ monthly bills,” three Senate Democrats and one independent senator asked FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a July 9 letter to provide lawmakers with data on cable and broadband prices paid by the U.S. public. 

Signed by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Al Franken (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ed Markey (D-MA), the letter takes issue with “huge price increases and often poor service for consumers” that have come about “as the telecommunications industry becomes increasingly concentrated.”  As a result of industry concentration, the senators advised Wheeler that “there are now de facto telecommunications monopolies throughout the United States” which have left “just 37% of Americans [with] more than one option for high-speed broadband providers.”  In such an environment where companies lack “incentive . . . to provide better service quality and competitive prices,” the senators argued that transparency is critical as “consumers are often unaware of the various fees that are tacked onto their monthly bills.” 

With the goal of ensuring “fair prices for consumers,” the senators asked Wheeler to respond with data on (1) average prices paid by Americans in each state for broadband and cable services, (2) average broadband and cable prices by telecommunications provider, (3) average subscriber rates for broadband and cable services in urban areas, and (4) average subscriber rates in rural areas.  Declaring, “the FCC has the mandate to collect pricing information,” the lawmakers told Wheeler that collection of the requested data is critical in upholding the FCC’s mission “to protect consumers, and promote competition, and deploy broadband across America.”  While officials at the FCC declined comment, American Cable Association CEO Matt Polka pointed to the impact of high retransmission rates on subscription pricing, lamenting that content owners want “consumers to pay for the big bundle of programming and channels that no one wants.”