FairPoint Communications’ internet customers in northern New England are paying more for their service. The company has added a fee to the price of its internet packages, which critics say is an all-too-common practice among internet service providers.
FairPoint calls it a “Broadband Cost Recovery Fee” and says the added monthly charge of $2.97 is necessary to keep up with costumers' increasing use of bandwidth as they access and stream content on computers, smartphones and tablets.
“The Broadband Cost Recovery Fee is to help defray the costs associated with expanding network capacity. In a consumer's home for example, they may have started off with a laptop, but then consumers will continue to add more devices,” says FairPoint spokeswoman Angelynne Beaudry.
Beaudry says the company’s internet customers were alerted to the fee last month and it shows up on bills for the first time this month.
FairPoint is not alone among internet service providers levying additional fees. Critics say they’re essentially rate increases by another name.
“These misleading fees are all too common,” Karl Bode, editor of the online industry publication DSL Reports said in an email.
Bode says the fees are often hidden and used by companies to raise prices above what they advertise.
“Burying costs of business below the line to artificially reduce your advertised price is effectively false advertising,” Bode says.
Beaudry says the company has been up-front about the fee and it's marked clearly on customer bills.
“It’s not a hidden charge. That’s why we’ve notified our customers well in advance. We’ve been very transparent about it,” she says.
Beaudry says the fee is not being charged to customers who are guaranteed their internet service price for a set period of time.
FairPoint does not generally advertise what it charges for internet.
But in one current online promotion the company is advertising internet service for $16.99 per month. The ad doesn’t mention the fee, which is not included and would increase the cost by 17 percent. Fine print lower on the page says additional charges apply.
Two calls to customer service representatives yielded mixed results. One representative quoted prices that included the fee, another did not.
The Public Service Department says it has received half a dozen complaints so far about the added charge.
The Federal Communications Commission has suggested a set of guidelines for internet service providers that would provide consumers with clear information on pricing, data allowances and speeds. But the guidelines are voluntary.