If you’re wondering “what is a broadcast TV fee,” you’re not alone. Tens of millions of cable subscribers across the country pay their television providers for a broadcast TV fee or a broadcast TV surcharge or one of their equivalents without any any idea what those fees and surcharges mean. So, what is a broadcast TV fee for?

Broadcast TV Fee: What is it anyway?

The short answer? Nothing.

The long answer is that broadcast TV fees are a way for cable companies to extract a little bit more profit from you, without it looking like a price hike. They aren’t a required government tax and they haven’t always existed. They’re a clever billing trick. Keep reading to learn more.

Why is there a broadcast TV fee on my bill?

If you’re a cable subscriber with TV service, you’re getting charged this fee by your cable company as a way for them to make some extra profit.

This varies provider by provider and state by state, but you’re most likely to see this charge if you’re a Comcast or Spectrum customer. In fact, even though providers Time Warner Cable and Bright House did charge Broadcast TV fees or similar in some locations, the practice of tacking on broadcast tv surcharges got rolled out to more of their customers when they were bought out by Spectrum last year.

Charter Broadcast TV Surcharge
Comcast Broadcast TV Fee

Can anything be done to stop this?

Probably not. Comcast has been sued for the practice, but hasn’t knocked it off yet. Charter (and Time Warner Cable) have an open suit against them as well, which hasn’t been resolved. So, it looks unlikely that these fees will be removed anytime soon by force.

Here at BillFixers, we negotiate with cable companies like Spectrum and Comcast every day. The standard line from them is that Broadcast TV fees are 100% non-negotiable. Sadly, that means you’re probably stuck with these fees as part of having TV service.

ATT Broadcast Surcharge

Where did it come from?

As far as we can tell, before Comcast introduced the “Broadcast TV Fee” to make up for charges from Broadcasters (like NBC who they own), AT&T invented the “Broadcast TV Surcharge” in 2013 to “recover a portion of the amount local broadcasters charge AT&T to carry their channels.”

However, they were only following in the footsteps of DirecTV (who they now own) who invented the “Regional Sports Fee” in a similar claim that they had to make up the cost of carrying sports channels. The Consumerist went through these fees earlier this year and found that DirecTV seems to be basically throwing darts at a map to determine who pays what for these fees and that neighbors across zipcode lines may have their bill differ by almost $100 a year.

Basically, somebody over at AT&T realized they could charge you more and make it look like it was the government’s fault and everyone else followed suit.

DirecTV Regional Sports Fee Phoenix

So, what do I do?

If you want to keep cable TV, there’s probably nothing you can do at this particular fee. That being said, there are two big ways you can fight back. If you “cut the cord” entirely and go to internet only, you’ll never see a broadcast tv fee ever again (although don’t be surprised if they start introducing an “internet infrastructure surcharge” sometime soon). Or, if you want to keep your current service, you can lower your price without cutting the cord.

Ben Kurland is one of the Co-Founders of BillFixers.