It’s been a while since Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, was praised here for proposing a bill that goes back to his roots as a former TV consumer reporter. Consider it done.
New legislation just dropped by Moriarty involves TV, as well as consumerism. It would make New Jersey the first U.S. state to require that ads for cable TV service and other video subscription services display “all-in” charges — not misleading teaser prices that exclude a host of mandatory monthly fees.
Loopholes in fine print have aggravated customers for years, with ads for cellphone service and car leases, too. But, as consumers increasingly weigh whether staying connected to cable, or subscribing to several streaming services and phone apps, buys the most desired “content” for their money, it’s a good time to make the providers come clean.
You know the ad-copy drill:. For $79 or $89 a month, Comcast or Fios promise you the moon and the stars, if you’re willing to keep them around for a year or two. Dish and Direct TV satellite dealers do the same.
Of course, it’s never just $79 or $89. Add local broadcast and sports channel fees that cost around another $20 a month. You can’t escape them, even if you swear you never watch Channel 6 or ESPN. There are recurring fees for certain equipment. Want to watch in high definition? That could be another $9 or $10. Consumer Reports estimates barely disclosed fees can add up to $37 a month.
It’s no wonder that giants like Comcast are weathering big increases in “cord cutters.” The Xfinity Arch Street Bullies don’t seem to mind, though, because they still make scads of money from upscaled internet connections, theme parks and live events. Comcast even owns the original Broad Street Bullies, flogging tickets for the Flyers and “Gritty” in an arena they also own.
But, Comcast’s monopolistic stranglehold on South Jersey and the Philadelphia region is a subject for another day — and, perhaps, another bill. This one’s about transparency in pricing.
“It’s very simple: if you’re going to advertise your service is $79 per month, that’s what it should be. Not adding $10 for a box, then a $4 sports fee and a couple dollars for entertainment acquisition,” said Moriarty.
There may be some tweaks necessary to the draft legislation, whose text was not available Friday. There are no penalties at this point for misleading advertising. Also, the bill didn’t have a Senate co-sponsor, and may not get one during the short lame-duck session.
Without fair comparison points, consumers can’t tell if keeping cable will give them the most for the best price. In many cases it will, since cable offers clear reception on finicky digital over-the-air local broadcasts. Cable has scores of basic cable networks that big streaming services don’t provide.
Still, many users want to know if it’s sensible to self-bundle Amazon Prime ($13 a month), Disney+ ($6.99 a month), Netflix (at least $8.99 a month), and maybe the streaming service of a premium channel like HBO ($14.99 a month), then shell out $50 to $100 one time for a killer antenna that makes the local stations all watchable.
Moriarty’s bill could be a big help, but he needs company to get it passed. Let’s hope the Legislature is no longer susceptible to vanity programming that has been an insidious way for cable providers to escape stringent state regulation. Inviting the local assembly member or senator into a studio to pontificate uninterrupted, or answer softball questions, really strokes their egos. It shouldn’t strike down good consumer legislation.
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