FCC Hits Again – Passes Another Controversial Rule Demanding Money from Consumers to Listen to Their Complaints Against Telecom Giants
We reported earlier this week that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was going to vote on a proposal that would potentially free it from listening to public comments unless consumers pay $225. With one of its own commissioners calling the proposal "bonkers," the proposal attracted questions and concerns from lawmakers. However, as it has been in the past, the communications watchdog has both ignored the public and the lawmakers voting 3-1 to stop reviewing informal consumer complaints against telecom and phone companies.
This comes despite the agency's promise yesterday that it was removing controversial bits from the draft. It appears Ajit Pai, the current FCC chairman and ex-Verizon employee, was simply trying to get the attention away from this vote.
FCC is no longer required to listen to your rants against its favorite companies
For what it's worth, Pai argues that the rule change doesn't mean anything substantial; it's just codifying existing practices. "Nothing is substantively changing in the way that the FCC handles informal complaints," Pai said. "We're simply codifying the practices that have been in place since 1986."
However, consumers, lawmakers, and consumer rights group are worried that this policy change will affect how disgruntled users approach a problem. As we reported earlier this week, one user commented:
"I recently filed a complaint about a $200 charge and the FCC forced spectrum to refund it. In this scenario I’d be out $25 more asking th FCC for help."
One of the FCC's own commissioners isn't happy with this, as well. "This is bonkers," FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said at today's vote.
"No one should be asked to pay $225 for this agency to do its job. No one should see this agency close its doors to everyday consumers looking for assistance in a marketplace that can be bewildering to navigate. There are so many people who think Washington is not listening to them and that the rules at agencies like this one are rigged against them - and today's decision only proves that point."
Rosenworcel also disputed Pai's argument who had called it nothing substantial. She said that currently, the agency works with providers to fix consumers' informal complaints.
"Today's order cuts the FCC out of the process. Instead of working to fix problems, the agency reduces itself to merely a conduit for the exchange of letters between consumers and their carriers. Then, following the exchange of letters, consumers who remain unsatisfied will be asked to pay a $225 fee to file a formal complaint just to have the FCC take an interest."
The FCC itself admits that the formal complaints entail complicated court-like process, requiring lawyers that appear to be hired by the complainant, adding into the cost.
"Parties filing formal complaints usually are represented by lawyers or experts in communications law and the FCC's procedural rules. No attorneys fees may be awarded." - FCC
FCC continues to turn every issue into a partisan debate to attract support from some select groups, but no one is buying this latest proposal
Today's meeting also brought allegations against the media - as has been a routine for the agency that has tried to gain support based on party lines even though the real winner is only mega companies - calling reports that are contrary to Pai's claim of "no substantive changes" as false news.
Keeping the media aside, the agency has failed to respond to the lawmakers. If that wasn't enough, it appears that some commissioners weren't even given the draft order until an hour after the meeting began.
"I think that is unfair to my office and unfair to any of us who have to vote on any agency matter." FCC Commissioner
For a communications watchdog that has been on a mission to approve pro-companies and anti-consumer regulations and that ignores its own government and lawmakers' requests, it becomes paramount to come clean about new proposals instead of holding back the drafts from people who are going to vote on them.
During a press conference, Pai declined to comment on why his colleagues didn't receive the final draft before the meeting.
In a separate news, Gizmodo reports that the agency has also ignored the deadline to respond to questions brought by two US senators over its unsubstantiated claims of a “cyberattack” made during the net neutrality comment process.