Sparks Fly at FCC Over Complaints, Pole Attachments Included

From Left: FCC Chair Ajit Pai, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel

Debate became intense Thursday between FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Chairman Ajit Pai, over an item to streamline the agency’s formal complaint process. The Order voted on yesterday concerns pole attachment complaints and formal objections against carriers and others.

Rosenworcel said her office didn’t get the final version to vote on until after yesterday’s meeting began. She said that was “unfair to my office” and others “for any agency matter.” The Commission receives between 25 to 30,000 complaints a month, she said. If the complaint can’t be resolved through mediation between the FCC, the carrier and the consumer informally, the next step is a formal complaint. The proposed change would require the consumer to pay $225 to file a formal complaint, according to Rosenworcel. “No one should have to pay the agency to do its job,” she said. 

Chairman Ajit Pai then asked Enforcement Bureau Chief Rosemary Harold a series of questions about the issue. She said the item remained the same as the draft text circulated among Commissioners three weeks ago and no one objected then. She said the item leaves the informal complaint process untouched. Harold said it’s not true Americans would need to pay $225 to file a complaint with the agency; Rosenworcel disagreed. She voted against the item, which passed 3-1.

Pai later told reporters: “The item we voted on today is exactly the same” as what was released earlier. He clarified, “Nothing is substantively changing.”

The formal complaint process is lengthy and requires a lot of evidence, Harold told reporters. “Not a lot of consumers want that. In most cases, they just want their problem solved.”

The Order voted on yesterday streamlines three sets of rules governing how the Commission handles formal complaints, including Section 224 pole attachments, and Section 208, 255, 716 and 718 of the Communications Act related to telecom services and equipment. The new rules require defendants to answer a complaint filed against them within 30 days and complainants to file a reply within 10 days. They codify the bureau’s practice of providing staff-supervised mediation and the agency commits to a 270-day shot clock for resolving formal complaints. Pole access complaints remain subject to a 180-day shot clock.  

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

July 13, 2018

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