A woman looking at a cable TV bill

For the past two years, consumers have been complaining to Consumer Reports about add-on cable TV fees, which can add almost $450 in unexpected charges to annual bills, we found.

Now, new legislation promises to require cable and satellite TV companies to disclose the total monthly price of your TV bill when you sign up for service. That would include all itemized charges, fees, and estimated taxes. Currently, consumers often don't find out the real cost of their service until their first bill arrives.

The act, called the Television Viewer Protection Act (HR 5035), was strongly backed by Consumer Reports. It has passed both the House and Senate as part of a major spending bill the president is expected to sign. The new law will apply to both stand-alone TV packages and the TV portion of bundled plans that combine TV with internet service.

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The bill also gives consumers a 24-hour window to cancel service without penalty and requires companies to provide consumers with a clear notice of when any promotional rate expires. In addition, pay-TV providers would be banned from charging consumers for equipment they do not use, such as billing for a company router even though a consumer is using their own. (Yes, that happens.)

“People across the country are fed up with all of the extra fees they pay each month that keep growing more costly year after year,” says Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports. “Cable companies shouldn’t be allowed to disguise the true cost of service by charging a long list of add-on fees that aren’t clearly disclosed when customers sign up for service. These reforms will bring fairness and clarity to pay-TV billing, so we can find a plan that fits our budget without having to worry about getting stuck paying hidden fees.”

The legislation also tackles increasingly common station blackouts, which occur when broadcasters and TV service providers can't agree on terms for carrying local or cable channels. The law will mandate good-faith negotiations between the parties during these so-called retransmission consent negotiations.

“This legislation ensures that cable and satellite subscribers won’t face constant blackouts or runaway fees when pay-TV providers and broadcasters can’t come to agreements because of unfair negotiating tactics," said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge, in a statement. "The bill ensures that these big businesses can never again use consumers as a bargaining chip."

Last, the bill extends key provisions of a law, called STELAR, that allows satellite TV providers such as DirecTV and Dish to provide network programming to people in markets where local broadcasts aren't available. STELAR, which is short for Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization, would otherwise expire Dec. 31.

According to estimates, just under 1 million people, most living in rural areas, would lose access to at least some network broadcasts if STELAR wasn't renewed.