It may soon be harder to get the Federal Communications Commission to listen to your complaints about billing, privacy, or other issues with telecommunications carriers like AT&T and Verizon.
Today, the agency approved changes to its complaint system that critics say will undermine the agency’s ability to review and act on the complaints it receives.
On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the controversial changes had been dropped from the proposal, but the commission voted 3–1 along party lines to approve it with the changes intact.
“I believe we should be doing everything within our power to make it easier for consumers to file complaints and seek redress,” Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC’s lone Democratic commissioner, said during today’s meeting. “This decision utterly fails that test.”
The FCC has two complaint systems. Formal complaints cost $225 to file and work a bit like a court proceeding. The informal complaint system is free. According to the FCC website, the agency doesn’t work to resolve individual informal complaints, but reviews them for trends or patterns that can lead to investigations or actions against carriers.
The changes approved today mostly deal with formal complaints about utility poles. But they include small changes to the informal complaint system that critics say will have an outsized impact on how the agency handles complaints.
At issue is the removal of the words “review and disposition” from the informal complaint rules. The term “disposition” means “resolution.”
In a letter on Tuesday, two Democrats in the House of Representatives argued that under the revised rule, FCC staffers would forward consumer complaints to the targeted company, and advise to file a formal complaint, for $225, if they’re not satisfied with the company’s response.
An FCC spokesman told WIRED Wednesday the change to the informal complaint process was only intended to clarify that the agency doesn’t act on individual complaints.
But critics worry that by removing the reference to review and disposition, FCC staff will no longer have the authority to review and act on informal complaints.
“Now the FCC can ignore informal complaints completely if it wants to,” says Gigi Sohn, a former FCC lawyer who is now a fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy. “This FCC’s contempt for the public it is legally mandated to serve is remarkable.”