This month’s FCC open meeting boasted a full docket, including a number of items of particular interest to USTelecom members. Each one of these items accomplishes, in different ways, the FCC’s goal of improving the customer experience with broadband and phone service. Below are more details on three of the FCC’s June items.
Slamming and Cramming
At the June 7th FCC meeting the Commission took action to improve its rules on Slamming and Cramming. Slamming is the practice of making an unauthorized change to a consumer’s primary long distance provider while cramming is the placing of unauthorized charges on a consumer’s bill and has traditionally been more of a concern in the context of wireless service. In an effort to tamp down on this sort of behavior by scammers, the Commission took action to codify what were previously existing policies.
The newly codified slamming rules state that phone companies that abuse the third-party verification process will be suspended from using that process for five years. Suspended companies will have to use other approved methods to verify switches.
With this Order, the Commission now has rules in place that include a clear ban on misrepresentations made during sales calls and provide that such material misrepresentations invalidate any authorization given by a consumer to switch telephone companies, as well as an explicit prohibition against placing unauthorized charges on consumers’ phone bills. In doing so, the Commission reaffirms for the benefit of service providers and billing companies the existing prohibition against cramming to ensure there is no misunderstanding about previous authority and enforcement of that prohibition.
The Commission also took action to improve the efficiency of the third-party verification process by eliminating the requirement that a phone company must obtain the authorization of a consumer for each service being sold—a time-consuming step that the Commission found can confuse consumers.
Eliminating Disparate Treatment of Rural Broadband Providers
In 2005, the FCC classified wireline broadband Internet access service as an information service. At the time, wireline broadband provided by rural local exchange carriers (RLECs) was more commonly known as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service, which was provided over telephone lines. In its classification the FCC concluded that “facilities-based providers of wireline broadband Internet access services must continue to contribute to existing universal service support mechanisms based on the current level of reported revenue for the transmission component of their wireline broadband Internet access services.” However, in the 2015 Open Internet Order, the FCC opted to no longer require Universal Service Fund (USF) contribution on these services by price cap carriers. This left only a small class of RLECs – those that sold themselves wholesale DSL service - as the only carriers contributing to USF on that internal transaction.
On June 14, 2017, USTelecom and NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association sought to address this inequity and filed a joint petition requesting temporary forbearance from the application of USF contribution rules to broadband Internet access transmission services provided by RLECs. USTeleom and NTCA argued in our joint petition that the FCC should extend forbearance to the one group of broadband providers that was left out of the 2015 decision – RLECs that did not elect model-based support.
On June 7, 2018 the Commission granted our Petition for Forbearance recognizing that, “forbearance will level the playing field between certain rural LECs and other Internet service providers by eliminating disparities in the USF contribution requirements imposed on those rural LECs that choose to provide broadband Internet access transmission services on a common carriage basis.” The Commission also found that correcting this inequity supports the Commission’s fundamental mission to promote competition, consumer protection, and universal service.
The relief granted as part of this Order will be effective for the third quarter of 2018, beginning July 3, 2018 to coincide with the effective date of the 2018 annual access charge tariff filings. The order also extends the June 15 deadline for filing third-quarter Form 499-Q revisions until July 2 for the affected rural carriers.
Accelerating Wireline Broadband Deployment
The Accelerating Wireline Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment 2nd Report & Order, adopted June 7, is another important step in furtherance of the Commission’s commitment to reform regulatory processes that are unnecessary and stand in the way of technology transitions that will ensure that all Americans have access to high-quality broadband and other next-generation networks and services. This order removes regulatory barriers by streamlining the processes for carriers to discontinue and replace certain legacy services that few customers use or want, and to upgrade their outdated networks. Specifically, the item:
- Reduces the comment period and timeframes for granting applications to would grandfather, or discontinue previously-grandfathered lower-speed data services providing below 25 Mbps download/3Mbps upload
- Forbears from requiring discontinuance approval for services with no customers or requests for service in the prior 30 days
- Eliminates uncodified education and outreach requirements adopted in 2016 as unnecessary for ensuring that consumers have timely and necessary information regarding replacement voice services available to them
- Further streamlines applications to discontinue legacy voice services by allowing a carrier to meet either the “adequate replacement” test or a new alternative test that requires only a showing that the discontinuing carrier provides an interconnected VoIP service and at least one other facilities-based voice service is available from another provider in the affected area
- Eliminates unnecessary and burdensome notification requirements, including certain notices related to customer premises equipment
- Adopts rules to facilitate rapid restoration of communications networks harmed by natural disasters or other unforeseen events