Government Calls On FCC To Keep Closer Eye On The Wireless Industry

Government Calls On FCC To Keep Closer Eye On The Wireless IndustryThose of us consumed in the world of mobile marketing and its subsequent topics tend to easily forget about the backbone of the mobile industry- the wireless companies themselves.  While they exist with a tremendous amount of regulation, the FCC and other government organizations are flooded with consumer complaints and internal inquiries each and every year.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has taken notice of the problem and called on the FCC to not only increase oversight of the entire wireless industry, but to do a better job of enforcing consumer protection rules as well.  A report compiled by the GAO regarding the situation was done so at the request of Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet.

Interestingly enough, the report comes almost four months after the FCC opened a series of inquiries into the state of the wireless industry, including an examination of so-called “truth-in-billing” rules, which require phone companies to clearly describe charges on consumer bills, for example.  Apparently, the GAO wants more.

To complete its report, the GAO conducted a random survey of more than 1,100 wireless customers around the country. It found that while 84 percent of consumers are satisfied with their mobile phone service, millions are unhappy with issues such as wireless billing practices, customer service, early termination fees and other contract terms- no surprise there.

Early Termination Fees (ETFs) have been under fire for a long time, but even more so now that smartphones are becoming more complex and therefore more expensive for telcos to subsidize for its customers.  The concept makes sense, but consumers and the FCC see it otherwise.  In the GAO’s report, it found that among consumers who wanted to switch carriers but didn’t do so, 42 percent didn’t switch because they did not want to pay an early termination fee.

Consumer complaints are also an area the GAO wants the FCC to get serious with.  They’ve found that while the FCC forwards customer complaints to carriers for response, it “has conducted little other oversight of services provided by wireless phone service carriers because the agency has focused on promoting competition.”  Other key findings cited in the GAO’s report include;

  • Most wireless consumers with problems do not complain to the FCC and many do not know where to turn with complaints
  • The FCC lacks a way to measure outcomes of its process for handling complaints
  • The FCC may be unaware of trends in consumer complaints or industry practices because it lacks a way to analyze complaints
  • The FCC has not enforced billing rules for wireless carriers
  • FCC communication with state regulators about wireless industry oversight is infrequent and state authority to regulate wireless carriers remains unclear, leading to a reluctance by some states to deal with billing disputes and other problems

It’s nice to see that even the FCC has someone looking over their shoulder to make sure things are being taken care of accordingly.  It should be interesting to see how the FCC responds and what steps it takes to become compliant in the issues the GAO points out.