Thanks to Republicans, It'll Now Cost You $225 to Complain to the FCC

Thanks to Republicans, It’ll Now Cost You $225 to Complain to the FCC

OPINION: Ajit Pai is a lapdog for the telecommunications industry

Under current Chairman Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has changed from a pro-consumer agency to a pro-corporate entity, giving telecommunications companies more leeway when it comes to scamming consumers. This was most prominently done through the repeal of the Obama Administration’s net neutrality rules, which forced Internet service providers (ISPs) to treat and charge users and platforms equally when it came to Internet data.

But there are other sly methods Pai and his fellow Republican panelists have been employing to disempower the FCC, and one of those plans was approved on Thursday. It concerns a change to the FCC’s rule docket when it comes to handling consumer complaints towards carriers. Under the previous guidelines, carriers were required to respond to any informal complaints forwarded by the FCC from consumers. Under the new one, ISPs can now choose whether they want to respond to it or not.

Related: The Effect of Net Neutrality and Media Mergers on Consumers

This is dangerous because it means that these corporations can now hurt consumers without risk of backlash from the FCC. Since Pai has effectively removed the FCC’s power to regulate informal complaints, the agency is now left with only one option of enforcement: formal complaints. The problem with formal complaints? They cost $225 per a submission.

In a letter filed by Democratic congressmen Frank Pallone, Jr. and Mike Doyle, the ranking members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Energy Subcommittee on Communications and Technology respectively, both expressed concern over the aforementioned consequences of changing the semantics of the docket:

“We have all heard countless stories of consumers complaining to the FCC about waiting months to have an erroneous charge removed from their bill or for a refund for a service they never ordered or about accessibility services that are not working. Oftentimes these issues are corrected for consumers as a result of the FCC’s advocacy on their behalf. 

“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 formal legal process.”

Of course Pai, being the corporate hack that he is, has denied that there will be significant effects from this alteration. A spokesperson for him told Ars Technica that the new rule “would simply align the text of a rule with longstanding FCC practices that have been in place for years under prior Chairmen and Commissions.”

Just like with his pathetic attempts at justifying the repeal of net neutrality, this is another song and dance act.

Featured image from FCC/Wikimedia Commons