ISPs continue to charge unfair rental fees, potentially breaking US laws

Why it matters: Despite a US law preventing internet service providers from charging customers who own modems and routers with equipment rental fees, an FCC filing from Consumer Reports suggests that many ISPs continue to break the rules. The nonprofit recently surveyed over 350 members, many of whom allege that they’ve been forced to pay unnecessary rental charges.

When the Television Viewer Protection Act of 2019 was signed into law, it included a clause that prevented internet service providers from forcing customers to pay rental fees. Subscribers who already owned modems and routers, which fall into the “covered equipment” category, could opt out of using rented network devices.

Before the law, most ISPs had contracts that forced hardware rentals on their customers, so this was a welcome change. As Consumer Reports stated, “these measures were necessary to address business practices that were frustrating and harmful to consumers.”

However, a recently published Consumer Reports FCC filing suggests that many ISPs continue to violate the law surrounding covered equipment. While some consumers could use their own equipment, others were repeatedly blocked from waiver requests and charged for equipment they didn’t need.

For example, AT&T customers have multiple monthly equipment fees about the exorbitant. In Austin, Texas, one consumer reported that AT&T blocked them from using their own hardware for “security reasons,” even though their network devices used the same security protocols as the provider’s equipment.

Another AT&T subscriber in Menasha, Wisconsin, reported being forced to rent out a Wi-Fi router from the internet provider, despite having bought a new high-speed router just a few months ago. When they asked about opting out of the router, AT&T representatives allegedly told them that “having the equipment was mandatory.”

The rental equipment debacle has been a longstanding point of contention between ISPs and their customers. An Ars Technica report from 2019 details the struggles of a Frontier customer attempting to get their router fee waived.

Consumer Reports made this filing in response to a call from the FCC, where they asked the public for “the extent to which (if at all) subject entities continue to assess charges for equipment that are expressly prohibited by the statute.”

Whether or not the FCC will take action against the violating service providers remains to be seen.

Image credit: Router by Stephen Phillips, AT&T by Brendan Stephens

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