updated 04:35 pm EST, Thu December 10, 2009
GAO says not enough FCC wireless oversight
The US' Government Accountability Office (GAO) today told the FCC in a report that it needed to more actively monitor complaints from cellphone users. It complimented the FCC for promoting competition but chastised the same regulatory body for doing so at the expense of addressing actual customer complaints. Even as 84 percent of customers in a sample group were very or somewhat satisfied with their service, many have longstanding disagreements that either stem from service problems or more systemic flaws. Among the 1,100 respondents, it was common to encounter disagreements with billing practices like hidden fees or the issues associated with ending a contract.
FCC officials also haven't properly verified "truth in billing" mandates meant to prevent carriers from charging unexplained fees, according to the report.
Part of the allegedly lax attitude is said to stem from a complaint system ill equipped to properly respond to these complaints. Most regular users either aren't aware of the FCC as an option or don't know the proper route to take. There are also few tools available to analyze a complaint in the greater context or to check that a complaint has been resolved.
The FCC has already responded and claims that some of its current activites, such as its investigation into Verizon's early cancellation fee hike, will address at least some of what the GAO has proposed.
Carriers have long insisted that ETFs are necessary to recoup the cost of the device should a customer exit a contract before the subsidy is paid off, but Verizon has yet to directly explain why it doubled its fee just over a week after the Droid went on sale, even though similarly expensive phones were available through Verizon before that point.
Contracts and fees have come under closer scrutiny ever since the iPhone's release, when customers became more keenly aware of cancellation fees for breaking a contract early and of the high true cost of running a smartphone.