Want to complain to the FCC about an ISP, cable company, or wireless provider? Now, Americans have three options: cash, check, or credit.
After an embarrassingly inept ‘public commenting’ disaster, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has opted for a different method for listening to average Americans. That is, charging them $225 to issue a ‘formal complaint,’ which itself seems mostly useless.
The proposal comes on the heels of a momentous shift away from net neutrality. The FCC, lead by chairman Ajit Pai, moved to eliminate net neutrality protections nationwide, despite massive protests from states, legislators, and a majority of Americans. But those protests were largely muddled on the FCC’s site, thanks to a system that was overwhelmed with fake comments, spam, and flat-out identity theft.
There were also a lot of real comments submitted during the review period. But those were overwhelmed by thousands upon thousands of spammed comments. Months later, the FCC has done nothing clean up the mess. Just recently, we found a few planted comments from a ‘Barack Obama’ still online, for example.
Weeks after the failure, an FCC commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel, even admitted that Russian interference was a likely culprit.
Part of the ‘problem’ was John Oliver, who rallied watchers to flood the FCC site with comments to save net neutrality. That may have prompted the spammy counterattack, the result of which was a giant online mess. In the wake of the Oliver-led onslaught, the FCC blamed a nefarious denial-of-service attack, rather than admit getting embarrassed by a comedian.
Sounds like a complicated problem. But what if Americans simply had to pay to complain?
That appears to be the magic solution cooked up by the FCC, with a $225 fee proposed for ‘formal complaints’. The process would work something like this:
- Joe American has a complaint for the FCC.
- The FCC tells Joe to go to the company he’s having a problem with.
- If that doesn’t work, the FCC charges Joe American $225 to formally complain.
- We’re done.
The payment ‘solution’ offers the perfect remedy for an inconvenienced FCC. Instead of implementing better verification tools, filtering out spam comments, and actually reading complaints to adhere to its core mission, the $225 fee process effectively eliminates 99.9% of the problem.
Members of Congress, however, are protesting.
Greg Walden (D-Oregon) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), both Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee, have formally complained to the FCC about the proposed change (and they didn’t have to pay $225 — yet). “We are deeply concerned that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is poised to adopt a rule that would eliminate the agency’s traditional and important role of assisting consumers in the informal complaint process,” the letter states.
“Too often, consumers wronged by communications companies face unending corporate bureaucracy instead of quick, meaningful resolutions. Historically, FCC staff has reviewed responses to informal complaints and, where merited, urged companies to address any service problems.”
“Creating a rule that directs FCC staff to simply pass consumers’ informal complaints on to the company and then to advise consumers to file a $225 formal complaint if not satisfied ignores the core mission of the FCC — working in the public interest.”
Meanwhile, the backlash against the FCC’s teardown of net neutrality protections continues.
Most recently, legislators in California managed to resurrect a tough net neutrality protection bill, SB 822, despite fairly blatant attempts to detail the initiative by an ATT-funded state representative, Miguel Santiago.
Santiago ultimately relented after an onslaught of protest. Immediately after Santiago gutted the bill, net neutrality protesters projected Miguel Santiago’s face onto the side of an AT&T building in Oakland, CA. Santiago’s offices were also reportedly flooded with calls, with many promising to remove the corrupt politician from the California State Assembly.
Whether Santiago’s political career survives the episode is unclear. But the fiasco reflects just how impassioned Californians remain over the issue of protecting net neutrality.
Earlier, both Oregon and the State of Washington passed laws protecting net neutrality. Similarly, New York looks poised to pass its own legislation, with California’s SB 822 offering a template. All of which creates a legal patchwork that major ISPs like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon are ferociously fighting against.