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July 12, 2018

Want to file a formal complaint with the FCC? That’ll be $225, please

by John_A

On Thursday, July 12, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on a new rule that may make it more difficult for consumers to file complaints and get their grievances resolved against an offending telephone, internet service, or cable provider. Critics argued that the new rule, if approved by the commissioners, goes contrary to the purpose of the FCC to regulate communications and hear complaints when they arise.

The commissioners will vote on new changes to how informal and formal complaints are handled. Under the new rule, informal complaints filed with the agency will be sent back to the original company to handle. Many argue that consumers often file a complaint with the FCC as a last resort because they couldn’t get a satisfactory resolution with the offending company, and sending the complaint back to the original company without any intervention essentially removes the FCC from the equation.

If a consumer could not get the issue resolved by filing an informal complaint, they could also escalate the issue by filing a formal complaint. Under the new rule, there will be a $225 filing fee for the commissioners to consider the formal complaint. The agency argues that the fee will help it streamline complaints, but the new rule may make it cost prohibitive for some to file a formal complaint in order to get their issue quickly resolved.

The new rule would also free the agency from having to read public comments. While the agency was required to read the more than 20 million comments last December when it rolled back net neutrality rules, under the new rules, the commissioners would not have to read through public comments at all, TechSpot reported.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Congressmen Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Frank Pallone, D-N.J., from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce wrote a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urging him to reconsider the vote. The congressmen noted that the FCC’s role is to ensure that consumers receive fair and honest treatment from their service providers.

“Creating a rule that directs FCC staff to simply pass consumers’ informal complaints on to the company and then to advise consumers that they file a $225 formal complaint if not satisfied ignores the core mission of the FCC — working in the public interest,” the letter stated. “We worry that the proposed change signals that the FCC no longer intends to play this role, and will instead simply tell consumers with limited means and time that they need to start an expensive and complicated legal process. Such an outcome is neither compelled by statue nor a wise public policy decision.”

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