Here are two proposals for some of our friends in the business world.
1. Cable and satellite companies should throw their lobbying clout behind urging lawmakers to forbid the bundling of channels by broadcasters.
As it stands, companies like Disney and Fox can insist that a Time Warner Cable or a DirecTV satellite take most or all of their channels as part of any programming deal, regardless of whether subscribers want them. Non-sports fans thus end up paying extra for ESPN, and non-Spanish speakers have to pay for MundoFox.
Broadcasters argue that such packages create more programming diversity and allow niche channels an opportunity to find an audience. That may be true.
But it's not how a free market is supposed to operate and it basically means that a manufacturer (in this case, of TV content) is forcing unwanted products down consumers' throats.
Would lawmakers stand for it if Hearst Corp., say, required that you subscribe to House Beautiful and Redbook if all you wanted was Car and Driver? Would they look the other way if Random House demanded that you purchase "Crafting With Cat Hair" (yes, that's a real book) along with "Fifty Shades of Grey"?
Only TV broadcasters get away with such blatantly uncompetitive and anti-consumer behavior, and we pay dearly for their market power and greed.
Broadcasters obviously have no incentive to budge. They make too much money under the current system. It's time for a legislative fix, and cable and satellite companies should be at the forefront of that effort.
2. Speaking of pricing, it's time for the telecom, banking and airline industries to end their practice of nickel-and-diming customers.
Hidden or barely advertised fees have gotten way out of hand and have made it increasingly difficult to shop for the best deal.
Want to fly? Brace yourself for extra fees for baggage, seat assignment, reservation changes, snacks, drinks, even blankets. Airlines pocketed more than $36 billion in revenue from fees last year, according to the Amadeus Worldwide Estimate of Ancillary Revenue, an annual industry report.
Banks will hit you with fees for having a checking account, wanting paper statements, making too many withdrawals, even closing your account once you get fed up with the miserly treatment. Overdraft fees alone bring in about $30 billion a year, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.
As for wireless companies, the consulting firm KSE Partners crunched the numbers and found that taxes and fees now account for 17.2 percent of the average monthly bill, up 5.5 percent during the last two years. Nearly half of Americans with mobile phones pay $100 or more a month, and more than 1 in 10 spend at least $200 a month, according to a recent survey by Harris Interactive.
All these industries use roughly the same business model: Advertise dirt-cheap prices for basic services and then smack you upside the head with add-on fees. I suggest that things be turned around.
List prices should include all routine taxes, fees and services, and then discounts could be applied as customer incentives. Not only would this make comparison shopping easier, but it also would place pressure on companies to lower prices, rather than raise fees.
The problem is one of transparency. No one begrudges a business earning a reasonable profit. The trick is trying to figure out how much profit they're pulling down amid a blizzard of jargon and fine print.
David Lazarus, consumer columnist and contributor to American Public Media's Marketplace radio program. firstname.lastname@example.org.