Genachowski: Power To the People!

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Flanked by the Consumer
Federation of America, Consumers Union, the National Consumers League and
Consumer Action, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski Wednesday outlined what
he called the FCC's "consumer empowerment agenda" at the Center for
American Progress in Washington.
As Multichannel News
reported, the chairman talked about taking steps to reduce bill shock through
better informing users of potential charges. He also released findings of an FCC study that
found that of the 764 people who had
complained about bill shock in the first six months of 2010, 67% were
complaining about amounts of $100 or more, with 20% pointing to jumps of $1,000 or more, with the
largest being $68,505.
And while bill shock is
primarily a phone company issue at present, the chairman made it clear he was
also looking ahead to a time when a
mobile broadband bill will include online video delivery.
"We just got our
first look at Google TV, and new video delivery boxes from Apple and Roku
hit store shelves last
week, as the way we
watch video on our flat-screen HD TVs continues to evolve."
He went on to say
that  "The more devices we buy, the more services we subscribe to,
the more perplexing it can be for consumers. Instead
of tracking minutes used, something intuitive -- consumers are being asked to
track
megabytes of data
consumed."
But the chairman went
beyond that issue to talk broadly about the FCC's consumer mandate, and
specifically about
his concerns over early
termination fees, both wireless and "increasingly," fixed broadband
bundles.
He said there is a
"legitimate case" for those fees for carriers who subsidize the cost
of new phones, but he made no such caveat for fixed
broadband and bundled services, for which he said the fees are a "fairly
recent
development."
Reaction to the
chairman's announcement was swift.
CTIA, the association
that represents wireless carriers, said it was already working to keep
customers happy, and
informed, and would do
more. But Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs, also said in a
statement that
CTIA was concerned
that "prescriptive and costly rules that limit the creative offerings and
competitive nature of
the industry may
threaten to offset these positive trends."
Genachowski gave a
shout-out to staffers in the room representing Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M,), who
has introduced a bill shock bill. Udall returned the shout-out in a statement,
but urged Genachowski to go further.
"While this notification
principle will go a long way toward the goal of reducing bill shock, more
should be
done," said Udall.
"The final FCC bill shock rules would prove more effective by also
requiring customer consent,
or ‘opt in,' before
phone companies can charge astronomical overages on top of monthly billing
plans," as would
his Cell Phone Bill
Shock Act (S.3872).
Public Knowledge also
wanted more."We very much appreciate the action the FCC is expected to
take tomorrow to protect consumers with
wireless devices," said PK presidnt Gigi Sohn.
"Telling consumers promptly and in an understandable fashion
when they are about to incur higher-than-normal charges is a modest requirement
that will
reap enormous benefits
in customer goodwill. At the same time, we continue to urge the Commission to
act on
another item that would
benefit wireless consumers - the petition we filed three years ago to provide
legal protections for the
content of text messages and for short codes."
PK wants the FCC to
declare that text messaging and short codes (a way to send texts to large
groups) are subject to the same
nondiscrimination regs as voice communications.

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