Most rates charged by cable television companies are not regulated by the FCC. Your local franchising authority - the city, county or other governmental organization authorized by your state to regulate cable television service - may regulate the rate for "basic" cable service, but it is not required to do so. The rates you pay for other cable programming and services, such as expanded cable channel packages, premium movie channels and pay-per-view sports events, are set by your cable TV provider.

General billing standards

The FCC has standards aimed at improving the quality of customer service provided by cable companies.  Although the standards were issued by the FCC, local franchising authorities enforce them.  The standards for billing are:

  • Your cable company must give you 30 days notice of any changes in rates, programming services or channel positions, if the change is within the control of the company. Notice may be given in writing and through announcements on the cable system.
  • Cable companies may itemize on your bill to show any franchise fee the cable company pays for the right to operate a cable system in that area; any fee for public, educational, and governmental access channels; and any other governmental tax or fee.
  • Refunds must be issued either by your next billing cycle, or within 30 days following resolution of the request, whichever is earlier. If you are canceling your service, your refund is due when you return the equipment.
  • In case of any credits, the cable company must apply them no later than the next billing cycle.

Your local franchising authority can answer questions about late fees.

Basic tier service

Cable systems generally are required to offer a "basic tier" of programming which must be included for all subscribers before they purchase any additional programming. The basic service tier must include most local broadcast stations, as well as any public, educational and governmental channels required by the franchise agreement between the local franchising authority and your cable company.

In general, if a cable company increases its rates for the basic service tier, the local franchising authority may review it to verify that it accurately reflects increases in the cable company's costs that cable operators are allowed to pass through to customers. Your local franchising authority also is authorized to enforce FCC rules and guidelines in the following areas:

  • Customer service: complaints about bills, or a cable operator's response to inquiries about signal quality or service requests (learn more at https://www.fcc.gov/media/customer-service-standards);
  • Franchise fees, which the cable company pays the local franchising authority for the right to access public rights of way to offer cable service.

Additional service tiers

The rates for any tier of service beyond the basic tier, including pay-per-channel programming (i.e., a premium movie channel), pay-per-program services (i.e., a pay-per-view sports event) and "a la carte" services are not regulated. Your cable company determines the rates charged for these services, though it is neither required to offer them, nor prohibited from doing so.

Your cable company cannot require you to purchase any service tier in addition to the basic service tier in order to have access to pay-per-view events or premium channels offered on an "a la carte" or individual basis.

Complaints and questions

You may contact your cable provider or your local franchising authority with complaints or questions about customer service, basic service tier rates or franchise fees.

Your local franchising authority’s name, address and phone number should be listed on your cable bill. Cable companies must provide that information, unless the local franchising authority requests that it not be provided. The name of your local franchising authority also may be in the phone book.  

Contact your cable company with any complaints about rates for tiers of service other than the basic service tier and for any pay-per-channel programming and pay-per-program services.

You also can contact your local and state consumer protection organizations for assistance in understanding your rights and responsibilities as a cable subscriber.

Filing a complaint

You have multiple options for filing a complaint with the FCC:

  • File a complaint online
  • By phone: 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322); TTY: 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322); ASL: 1-844-432-2275
  • By mail (please include include your name, address, contact information and as much detail about your complaint as possible):

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20554

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Regulation of Cable TV Rates Guide (pdf)

Date Last Updated/Reviewed: 
Monday, May 23, 2016