Internet service providers (ISPs) in the US have made exploiting customers into an art form. It has long been legal for ISPs to charge you money for equipment that you’ll never use, but thankfully, that is finally changing. A new law went into effect on Sunday that prevents your ISP from making equipment rental fees mandatory.
If you’ve set up internet service in the last few years, you’ll know that Comcast, Frontier, and others try to get you to use their modem-router combo devices. For some people, this is easier to set up and you don’t have to worry about buying an expensive modem of your own up front. However, that $10 monthly fee really adds up, and owning a modem and router will save you money over the long-term. The wireless performance of a good home router is also much better than what the ISP gives you.
And yet, some ISPs have been charging the fee regardless of whether or not you use their hardware. Frontier has been particularly aggressive about those mandatory rental fees. Congress addressed this with the Television Viewer Protection Act of 2019 (TVPA). The law made it illegal for ISPs to charge you what amounted to a fee for using your own equipment. The law was supposed to go into effect on June 20th, 2020, but the FCC stepped in.
According to the FCC, ISPs were so overburdened by the pandemic, that they could not be expected to update their billing systems to stop charging the erroneous fee. Yes, that’s really the rationale the FCC used. The start date of the rule was moved to December 20th, which was this past weekend.
If you look at Fronteir’s equipment page, it has removed the section about mandatory hardware fees. Bills for the new cycle should all have that fee removed as long as you don’t have the ISP’s modem or router. There is one notable loophole in the law, though. Your ISP can still send you a modem as part of the setup process. If you keep it, they can start charging you a rental fee. If you are using your own hardware, you have to make sure to return the ISP equipment to avoid charges.
This is just one small step toward making internet access better in the US. Getting rid of that $10 fee for some consumers is great, but we’re still paying twice as much as Europeans for high-speed internet, and many of our connections are now capped at 1TB per month.
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