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Cable provider issuing refunds for sports fee during pandemic

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Posted at 6:40 PM, Oct 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-13 07:32:17-04

BALTIMORE — Cable customers could receive a credit on their upcoming bills.

While major sports leagues put their seasons on pause to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, cable companies continued to charge regional sports network fees.

This fee runs anywhere from $7 - $9 in the Baltimore market.

"Only the cable industry can tell you with a straight face we want you to keep paying your regional sports fees when we’re showing you reruns of the Super Bowl from 10 years ago," said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel with Consumer Reports.

In July, Comcast pledged to return any refunds they receive from regional sports networks to consumers, however, details on how much and when have been limited.

Recently, Comcast said they’ve been able to secure fee adjustments for MLB games not played because of the pandemic.

"We have started to receive some of those credits and are passing what we receive through to our customers, as promised. We will issue any other adjustments as we get them from the Regional Sports Networks," a Comcast spokeswoman wrote to WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii.

Schwantes and his team at Consumer Reports is familiar with this fee and over a dozen others.

Last year, they published a report analyzing nearly 1,000 consumer cable bills, and found consumers aren’t just getting charged arbitrary fees, but they’re becoming more expensive.

"In 2015, the broadcast TV fee and the regional sports fees cost consumers $2.15 and then when we looked at the bills in 2019, those two combined fees now cost consumers $18.25. That’s a 630 percent increase in just 4 years. And now, I looked at the fees in 2020, those combined fees have gone up $5," Schwantes said.

More frustrating to customers is that while sports stopped, these charges didn’t.

Schwantes said significant refunds are unlikey due to cable provider’s contractual obligations to keep paying sports networks.

"It would be out of their goodness of their heart, Mallory, for them to give you a refund that would cut into their bottom line," Schwantes said.

Comcast may be feeling a little more generous than others. Credits have been issued.

A Detroit customer tweeting he got back a little less than one month’s fee. Another customer received $4.15.

Comcast did not provide any additional information on which customers will receive credits, how much, or when.

A Verizon spokesperson said they are still working with programmers to secure rebates to pass on to customers, but so far, none have gone out.

To read the full Consumer Reports study on cable bills and reducing costs, click here.