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EditorialWhile filling my car with gas the other day I noticed that the LED sign that displays the price does not have changeable lights for the '.9' that gas prices always end with.  In other words, the full rectangle of dots was present for all the other numbers, but only the dots needed to make a '9' were in the end space.  It got me thinking (again!) how deceptive business practices have become the acceptable norm.  Because it's the '$8.23' that we all focus on, not the '.9'.  Even though we are paying $8.24 per gallon, we think we're paying $8.23.

So yeah, we all know that's what is happening, but admit it: how many times do you round up when you see a gas sign?

So many small companies think this is OK.  How many Web sites have you visited that have the price of their products right there on the home page where you can see it?  On most of the sites I visit I have to click the purchase link to find the price.  As I grow grumpier, I am less apt to purchase products that make me do that.  Are they ashamed of how much they charge?  They don't ever seem to be so ashamed that they won't take my money.

I just payed our office phone bill this morning, and I noticed I am being charged $0.17 for a partial month of 'Change In Service'.  I wasted part of my day trying to find out what the change in service actually is.  I can't find it anywhere in my bill or on Verizon's Web site.  The phone companies are always pushing their calling package.  If you have a land line you also have to pay for what they call a monthly dial tone charge.  On our bill that is currently $25.46, the advertised price.  We don't have any other service on this line, though over the years we have received a forest's-worth of mailings offering us fabulous deals on 'Unlimited Local Calling Package', which would cost about the same amount again on top of the dial tone charge.  So if we call out we pay by the minute, and since we rarely call out that's not a bad deal for us.

(Before you inundate me with emails lauding the value of Vonage or other fabulously priced services that are exponentially better, we have a land line so our company can be in the Yellow Pages, which is something businesses do.)

But they aren't advertising the other fees.  Taxes, Governmental Surcharges and Fees come to $4.85, which, if you accept that taxes are a fact of life, seems reasonable.  But then there are $9.62 worth of Verizon Surcharges and Other Charges & Credits.  In the small print the company explains these are mostly governmental charges that are not actually taxes.   If that is true, I don't understand why it's not just part of Taxes, Governmental Surcharges and Fees.

So the advertised price is 25 and a half bucks.  And the final bill is $40.10.  So how is saying that the service costs 25 bucks truthful?  We all know this.  We all hate this.  And now our House of Representatives have said they want this.

On Monday Congress passed the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014.  The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed by the President, will reverse the 2012 FAA rules that required the airlines to include taxes and fees in their advertised rates.  The bill was introduced by Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster.

Airlines for America, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines are among Shuster's top 20 campaign contributors for the 2013-14 reporting cycle.  According to the airline industry failed to get the courts to agree to let them leave out fees and taxes from their advertised prices last year.  These are the same airlines that are charging extra for things that were included in the base air fare not so many years ago, then suddenly became significantly more confusing and expensive to passengers.

By the way, also reports that the so-called 'Transparent Airfares Act' passed through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee with no congressional hearings and no public comments.  I am trying to figure out why it is called transparent.  Maybe they typed it on cellophane instead of paper?

Near the beginning of this bill it says, "It shall not be an unfair or deceptive practice under subsection (a) for a covered entity to state in an advertisement or solicitation for passenger air transportation the base airfare for the air transportation if the covered entity clearly and separately discloses—
(A) the government-imposed taxes and fees associated with the air transportation; and (B) the total cost of the air transportation."

On paper ads that means the small print that is too small for anybody to read even if they try to, and on Web sites the bill says it is acceptable to disclose the additional cost in a popup or a link to another page (where we can't see it when we are making our buying decision).

So here we are again.  Our elected officials in the House of Representatives think its OK for the airlines to dupe us into thinking we'll be paying one price, when we are actually paying much more.

I happen to think that while it is important for our elected officials to protect our individual rights and maybe try to make our lives a little better, that it is also important for them to make the best possible environment for our businesses, which keeps us employed and supposedly feeds the American Dream.

But it is not OK for them to legislate bait and switch advertising that help businesses deceive American Citizens.  (Or to help citizens deceive businesses, for that matter.)  When I want to buy something I want to know what it will cost up front.  Not just some of the cost.  All of it.  Anyone who represents me ought to know that, because theoretically they bought airline tickets themselves at some point before they became elected officials.

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