Friday, July 31, 2015

Early indications that FCC not enforcing Title II Internet universal service, anti-redlining provisions


--FCC accepts AT&T assertion of Title II compliance on its face

--Consumer complaint against Comcast closed despite demand for $535,000 to establish Internet service

 

Earlier this year, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission deemed Internet service a common carrier utility under Title II of the Communications Act and thus subject to the law’s universal service and non-discrimination obligations. New FCC rules implementing the policy became final on June 12, 2015 and withstood judicial petitions by large telephone and cable companies and their trade associations to block them from taking effect.

Going forward, it remains to be seen whether the FCC will enforce Title II universal service and anti-redlining requirements against the large, dominant telephone and cable companies that provide much of the nation’s premise landline Internet service in tightly proscribed “footprints” within their service areas. Early indications are that the FCC is opting to not enforce these requirements even though it specifically declined to forbear their enforcement in its March 12, 2015 Open Internet Order and Rulemaking, finding that doing so would not be in the public interest. Harold Feld of Public Knowledge termed universal service “the quintessential common-carrier obligation.”

Nevertheless, it appears the FCC rather than enforcing key Title II obligations is choosing to merely pass complaints of violations on to providers and then summarily closing them out once the provider communicates with the complainant. I offer my own experience as evidence.

On June 15, 2015, I attempted to place an online order for Internet service for my home office premise in Northern California and received this screen:



I also obtained the following communication from an AT&T agent in a June 15, 2015 online chat session:

Agent: Unfortunately, neither AT&T Business U-verse nor DSL services are available in your area. There may be several reasons why AT&T Business Internet Service is not available in your area. The most common reason is that there are a set number of ports to deliver service in each area, and we've reached capacity. It's also possible that your business is outside of the range to receive service.

A subsequent attempt to order a small business bundle of phone and Internet service resulted in this email from AT&T:

Dear Fred Pilot,
I'm sorry but internet services are not available to this address at this time. Do you want to continue with the phone line and long distance order?
Thank you for choosing AT&T.

Sincerely,

Shelley Zeigler
AT&T Small Business Online
 

* * *

I filed a complaint with the FCC on June 15, 2015 contending AT&T by failing to fulfill my order for Internet service was in violation of the FCC's recent Open Internet Order and specifically Title II SEC. 201(a) of the Communications Act that requires common carriers to "furnish service upon reasonable request therefor."

On July 30, 2015, I received this update from the FCC:

Hi Frederick,
Your Ticket No. 342043 was served on your carrier for its review and response.
Your carrier has provided the FCC with a response to your complaint. You should receive a copy of the response from the carrier within 7-10 days via postal mail. As such, no further action is required. Your complaint is closed.
Thank you for your complaint and help in furthering the FCC’s mission on behalf of consumers.

*  *  *

On July 18, 2015 I received an email from the manager of the AT&T Office of the President stating that AT&T reviewed my complaint and “determined that neither DSL or U-verse are available at this time,” adding that “AT&T also finds that it is not in violation of the Open Internet Order referenced in the FCC complaint.” 

Bottom line: The FCC closed the case based on AT&T’s assertion that it is not out of compliance with Title II SEC. 201(a). The FCC’s position appears to be we’ll accept AT&T’s word it’s in compliance with the law and move on. That’s hardly what could be termed enforcement by an entity established as a regulatory agency.

Since Comcast also nominally serves my ZIP Code, I also attempted to order Comcast’s 25Mbs Internet service from its consumer website. The site responded “The address you entered could not be recognized” and offered four other addresses in my ZIP Code with numbers matching my own. A few days later, Comcast left a voice mail stating my address was "not serviceable."

I filed a complaint with the FCC alleging Comcast was in violation of Title II Section 201(a) and a ticket was opened. Subsequently, Comcast sent me an email indicating Comcast could service my address if I paid $535,000 to expand its network:


To: Frederick Pilot
Sent: Monday, June 29, 2015 8:58 AM
Subject: RE: Comcast/ESL01973870/Pilot/AE  
Good Morning Mr. Pilot,   I hope your weekend was well. I have just received word from our serviceability team. The serviceability team has confirmed that your address is over a mile from Comcast’s nearest network. The estimated cost to have the Comcast network expanded to your home is $535,000.00. 
Kind regards
Alyssa Executive Customer Relations Comcast | West Division Office: 1-888-966-7794 Ext. 3007906 M-F: 8:00a – 4:30p PDT        


Another email from Comcast clarifying that I (and not Comcast) would have to bear the cost:


WST - Comcast Executive Customer Relations 5
Jun 29 at 10:06 AM
To:  Frederick Pilot
Mr. Pilot,   If you would like to discuss paying the estimated fee of $535,000.00 to have the lines ran to your home I can get you in touch with our construction team. Please let me know how you’d like to proceed.
Alyssa Executive Customer Relations Comcast | West Division Office: 1-888-966-7794 Ext. 3007906 M-F: 8:00a – 4:30p PDT

*  *  *

I added these emails to my FCC complaint file, pointing out the demand for such a large sum in order to provide Internet service potentially violates two additional Title II provisions:

  • Section 254(b)(3) requiring Internet Service Providers to provide access to advanced telecommunications in all regions of the nation at rates that are reasonably comparable to rates charged for similar services in urban areas.
  • Section 202(a) of the Communications Act insofar as it is an unjust, unreasonable and discriminatory charge in order to effect a common carrier communications connection per Section 202(b). 

Apparently this additional information didn’t pique the interest of the FCC, which closed out the complaint on July 17, 2015:


FCC Consumer Complaints July 17, 2015 08:29

Hi Frederick,
Your Ticket No. 351820 was served on your carrier for its review and response.
Your carrier has provided the FCC with a response to your complaint. You should receive a copy of the response from the carrier within 7-10 days via postal mail. (None was received as of 7/31) As such, no further action is required. Your complaint is closed.

Thank you for your complaint and help in furthering the FCC’s mission on behalf of consumers. 


A follow up query to the FCC asking why the complaint was closed produced no response.

1 comment:

Doug Dawson said...

Gee, only $535,000 to get a cable modem. I can't understand why you aren't jumping all over that offer!

That's a pretty phenomenal number if you are only a mile from the Comcast network. Even if they did the most expensive kind of outside plan construction and even went so far as to create a new fiber node just for you the cost wouldn't be half that. And if they just extend their current network it's more like 1/10 of the cost they are quoted to you.

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