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Democrats argue a new FCC rule would hinder consumers, but Commission says they got it wrong

Democrats argue a new FCC rule would hinder consumers, but Commission says they got it wrong


The two parties disagree entirely on what the new rule does

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai And FTC Chairman Joseph Simons Testify To Senate Appropriations Committee Hearing On Their Dept.’s Budget
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission will be voting on a measure that adjusts how they handle complaints — and Democratic House members are not happy about it.

Two high-ranking Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter addressed to the Commission’s chairman, Ajit Pai, on Tuesday to voice their disapproval of a proposed rule that, they believe if approved, would send informal consumer complaints directly through to the company in question. “At a time when consumers are highly dissatisfied with their communications companies, this abrupt change in policy troubles us,” the congressmen wrote.

The Democratic lawmakers believe that this change would essentially force people into filing a formal complaint — and paying the $225 fee — to be heard by the FCC.

The contention is over a minor wording change

But the Commission says the the Democrats have it wrong. “The item would not change the Commission’s handling of informal complaints; the Democrats’ letter is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the draft order,” an FCC spokesperson said in an email to The Verge.

The FCC’s proposed language varies little from what is currently on the books. In the current rule, the wording implies that carriers “will” have to provide responses to the commission regarding whether a complaint was satisfied or not. In the updated phrasing, the wording leaves a little more wiggle room, only suggesting that carriers “may” be required to provide these responses.

When asked about the change in phrasing, the FCC said the language adjustment doesn’t make a difference and “there is no relevant change.” The language directing consumers to file formal complaints is nearly identical.

The Commission’s docket describes the proposed ruling as an attempt at streamlining and consolidating “the procedural rules governing formal complaints,” which it does accomplish, but it also changes the language in the informal section as well without any real reason to do so.

The congressmen argued that the proposed changes, that the commission says are not happening, to the complaint process could hurt consumers in the long run. “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,” the congressman wrote in their letter. ”Oftentimes these issues are corrected for consumers as a result of the FCC’s advocacy on their behalf.” Without the FCC addressing those issues, consumers are left to wrangle with massive telecommunication corporations on their own, or pay a hefty fee to the FCC.

The vote will be held on Thursday during the commission’s Open Meeting, along with a slew of other measures.

FCC Informal Complaints - House E&C Democrats Letter by Makena Kelly on Scribd

Update and correction July 11th, 12:30PM ET: The article has been updated to include the FCC’s response and to clarify that the informal complaints change was expressed by the congressmen; this article previously described the change as requiring consumers to pay a $225 fee, as stated in the letter.

Update July 11th, 5:45PM ET: This story has been updated to discuss the specific language at issue and include further response from the FCC.