Complaining to the FCC

FCC_New_LogoArs Technical recently looked at complaints about ISPs in the specific categories of availability, billing, and speed that were filed with the FCC during the first eleven months of 2014. Probably in what is not a surprise to anybody, Comcast got more complaints than any other carrier. But there were complaints filed against all of the major ISPs.

The FCC complaint process is interesting. In the new system a filer is given a tracking number so that they can see the progress of their complaint. Somebody at the FCC’s Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division looks at every complaint and they might contact a filer if they want more information about the complaint. If the FCC decides that the complaint is actionable – meaning that it’s something the carrier should know about, they forward the complaint to the carrier. The carrier must then respond in writing to the complaint within 30 days and must copy the consumer on the response.

The FCC reports that carriers usually take a stab at resolving complaints when that’s possible. If there has been a billing dispute, an FCC complaint can get the carrier to examine the records and hopefully correct the problem.

As can be imagined, people often complain about policies that are not really actionable. Ars Technical saw that the issue with the most complaints is the trials of the new Comcast data caps. Other than complaints about how Comcast is supposedly measuring data usage poorly, there are no specific rules being broken by just having the data cap. One would expect for complaints about the existence of the cap that the customer will receive a nice form letter from Comcast telling them how the caps are all about fairness.

A few of the complaints I read were about people hoping that the FCC could bring broadband access to their neighborhoods. They are generally from people who live just outside existing networks and who can’t understand why their neighbors have broadband and they don’t. There is little the FCC can do with this complaint other than to log them in the category of folks without hope of broadband.

A number of the issues found in specific complaints are the same kinds that often make consumer web sites. These might include billing issues that haven’t been cleared up in years. This seems to be the one category of complaint where it is effective to complain to the FCC since that will often finally clear up a persistent billing issue.

There are complaints from customers who are getting data speeds that are a fraction of what they have subscribed to. The FCC can’t really fix this, but they are in the process of requiring ISPs to be more honest with their customers about the speeds they deliver. You have to feel sorry for the folks who say they are paying for a 30 Mbps data product and who get speeds just barely above dial-up.

In preparing to write this blog I did a quick poll of a dozen of my larger clients and asked them if they had ever gotten a complain through the FCC process. These were all ISPs with more than 25,000 customers and a few quite a bit larger than that. I was not surprised to find that none of them could ever recall getting such a complaint, at least not in recent years. This reaffirms my belief that smaller companies do a much better job of customer service than larger companies. They may not always satisfy a customer, but they don’t shuttle them off to endless and frustrating calls to customer service and they try hard to try to solve their issues.

For any of you that have ever been tempted to file a complaint, the new online process is really easy to understand. The FCC’s web site provides easy instructions on how to complain. It asks the consumer to choose a category for the complaint. These are wide ranging and don’t just include ISPs but cover the entire wide spectrum of issues regulated or monitored by the FCC. But it’s hard to think that any category gets more complaints than ISP broadband issues since that has grown in such importance to the majority of households.

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