DirecTV’s controversial surcharges on regional sports networks can vary dramatically from one ZIP code to the next, but the satellite TV operator’s corporate parent, AT&T, hasn’t clearly explained the reason for this phenomenon.
"The fees vary because they are based on a variety of factors, including the number of channels, the content in the channels, as well as the cost to deliver them,” AT&T told Ars Technica,
The tech blog was following up on a Consumerist article from last week that noted wild fluctuations in RSN surcharges from one ZIP code to another, even though these areas were right next to each other, their respective DirecTV customers ostensibly receiving the same programming lineups.
In Arizona, Consumerist reported that DirecTV customers might be charged $0, $2.47, $5.83 and $7.29 extra for regional sports channels, depending on which ZIP code they have. Consumerist even unearthed a DirecTV site that let users punch in their ZIP code to determine what surcharge they owe each month.
A perusal of the DirecTV tool found that charges in California and New York are uniform—everyone pays $7.29 a month. In Chicago, however, Consumerist found that most DirecTV customers pay that same $7.29, but a few ZIP codes only get billed $5.83 a month.
Most DirecTV customers in Philadelphia, meanwhile, pay no RSN surcharge, since the satellite operator doesn’t carry Comcast’s local CSN channel. However, those in select ZIPs pay $4.53 or $5.83 a month.
Consumerist quoted one flummoxed DirecTV customer who went high up the chain of command at AT&T to find an answer as to why she was paying $7.29 a month for sports channels when peers a few miles away paid nothing. She was reportedly given a very obvious answer: "The fees are based on your ZIP Code."
The question is, why?
FierceCable sent an inquiry to AT&T this morning, hoping for a more understandable, transparent response. We’re still waiting on that.
Pay-TV operators have charged customers extra fees in recent years to recoup programming expenses not just on regional sports networks, but for broadcast retransmission licensing fees, as well.
These fees have drawn scrutiny from Congress, which hauled pay-TV executives into a Senate hearing last summer to explain their validity.
Both Comcast and Charter, meanwhile, are currently subjected to separate class-action suits over the surcharges.