FCC Partially Kills Rules Requiring ISPs Be Clear About Usage Caps, Hidden Fees

from the all-about-helping-the-little-guy dept

FCC boss Ajit Pai made it clear that overturning net neutrality would be the new FCC’s top priority (apparently right behind paying lip service to the poor), and his behavior is making it very clear that wasn’t an empty promise. Pai recently killed the FCC’s inquiry into Verizon and AT&T’s zero rating, which lets both companies use arbitrary usage caps to give their own content an unfair market advantage. The previous FCC argued both ISPs were violating net neutrality and engaged in anti-competitive behavior. The new FCC, in contrast, now says zero rating “enhances competition in the wireless marketplace.”

Now Pai’s chipping away at the transparency portion of the FCC’s net neutrality rules as well, insisting they’re little more than “excessive reporting obligations.” The transparency requirements, originally passed in 2010, required that ISPs make the following items perfectly clear when selling service to consumers:

  • Price — the full monthly service charge. Any promotional rates should be clearly noted as such, specify the duration of the promotional period, and note the full monthly service charge the consumer will incur after the expiration of the promotional period.
  • Other fees — all additional one-time and/or recurring fees and/or surcharges the consumer may incur either to initiate, maintain, or discontinue service, including the name, definition, and cost of each additional fee. These may include modem rental fees, installation fees, service charges, and early termination fees, among others.
  • Data caps and allowances — any data caps or allowances that are a part of the plan the consumer is purchasing, as well as the consequences of exceeding the cap or allowance (e.g., additional charges, loss of service for the remainder of the billing cycle).”
  • The FCC estimated that it should take ISPs about 6.8 hours per year to adhere to these requirements, which have an obvious benefit to consumers. But because some ISPs repeatedly complained that the requirements were “too onerous” (without ever really supporting that claim with data), the FCC temporarily exempted ISPs with fewer than 100,000 subscribers from the rules. But last week, the FCC not only extended the rules, but expanded them claiming this would let ISPs “allocate scarce resources toward expanding modern networks that bring economic opportunity, job creation and civic engagement to all Americans.”

    But lone dissenting FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn was quick to point out that under the surface, this had little to do with helping small ISPs (again, given the small burden of 6.8 hours in extra work per year), and everything to do with slowly-but-surely rolling back oversight of larger companies utilizing smaller holding companies:

    “Many of the nation?s largest broadband providers are actually holding companies, comprised of many smaller operating companies,” Clyburn said. “So what today?s Order does is exempt these companies? affiliates that have under 250,000 connections by declining to aggregate the connection count at the holding company level.”

    The original exemption for ISPs with 100,000 or fewer subscribers was applied to the aggregated total of subscribers “across all affiliates,” so that small ISPs owned by big holding companies wouldn’t be exempt. That changed today, according to Clyburn.

    Consumer group Public Knowledge quickly issued a statement questioning the wisdom of making often convoluted and misleading broadband bills more difficult to understand:

    “Yet again, Chairman Pai has acted to weaken consumer protections at the FCC. Today?s action means that more ISPs could withhold essential information about their broadband pricing and service, making it harder for many more subscribers to make informed decisions and hold their providers accountable. How can it be good for consumers if companies conceal anything about the price, speed, and data caps for their broadband service?”

    If you hadn’t noticed already, easing government and public oversight of one of the least popular and least competitive markets in America — then pretending it’s either for the poor or for “modernization’s” sake is new FCC boss Pai’s modus operandi. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about Pai’s decision to help prison telco monopolies overcharge inmate families, his decision to kill plans for more cable box competition, or the recent efforts to dismantle net neutrality piecemeal, this is all being set to the backdrop of bogus empathy for the little guy. And this is just his first month in office.

    As we noted previously, Pai won’t repeal net neutrality via FCC process because it would open the door to a public-comment period during which his decision would be quite-justly lambasted. Instead, the plan is to chip away at the rules bit by bit until the GOP pushes either a Communications Act rewrite or other legislation that puts net neutrality — and likely the FCC’s entire authority over broadband ISPs — to bed permanently. If you really like the end result of having large ISPs and revolving door regulators dictate internet policy (read: Comcast), you should be pretty excited about what the future has in store.

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    Comments on “FCC Partially Kills Rules Requiring ISPs Be Clear About Usage Caps, Hidden Fees”

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    25 Comments
    OnlytheCorruptApply says:

    Revolving Doors Need to be permanently closed

    Industry to government, government to industry – revolving doors are slowly killing this nations democracy to favor corporations which by the Roberts court have been defined as people, yet serve no prison time, cannot be put to death or face a trial.

    Let’s call this what it is, corruption.

    Let us have a moment of silence in respect for all that we are about to lose under the guise of helping us.

    DannyB (profile) says:

    Why can't they tell me what it costs?

    When I buy a cable package, a mobile data plan, a mobile phone, a cable internet package, etc; they should be able to tell me on the spot EXACTLY what my monthly bill will be.

    When I pump fuel into my vehicle, I am somehow able to magically know what it will cost, as it is pumped.

    Every single item in the grocery store is clearly marked with a price. All I have to do is add tax, which is KNOWN QUANTITY. I can therefore know exactly what my total will be, to the penny, before I even reach the checkout.

    In the 21st century why are we unable to know exactly what an internet package will cost at the time of signup? This seems like exactly the kind of problem that the government should be able to fix. This is way easier to fix than removing the lead from our drinking water. Or the pollution from our air. This is way WAY easier to fix than forcing all journalism to never criticize the administration. So why not take on and fix this problem? It seems like an executive order, and directly within the realm of the executive branch, the FCC and/or FTC. Am I missing something?

    That One Guy (profile) says:

    Re: A good customer is a compliant customer, don't be a bad customer and ask questions

    That’s easy enough to answer, it’s because it’s more profitable to lie to you than give you an honest answer.

    If you knew the actual price upfront then you’d be able to make an informed decision as to whether or not one service was better than another(assuming you have more than one choice available), whereas if they lie to you and claim that their prices are lower than they actually are, then you’re more likely to be suckered into signing up with them, only to find out too late that nope, their prices aren’t even remotely close to what you were told, because they forgot to include in the quote the F.Y. fee, the Connection fee, the Transmission fee, the B.W.C. fee…

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: Re:

    But why isn’t it an FTC-issue? Companies hoodwinking consumers would seem like their mission statement to regulate if you look at Woodrow Wilsons intent.

    As soon as you have several government regulation agencies police the same turf, you end up with some bad conflicts. While net neutrality is a completely different issue that isn’t part of other agencies, consumer protection/disclosure is.

    Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

    Re: Re: Re:

    LOL! You actually believe there’s effective consumer protection in America? Oh, dear lord! If that were true, why has net neutrality been effectively gutted and why isn’t the FTC all over this? I should be hearing Ajit Pai’s cries of pain from having his rump kicked from this side of the Atlantic. I don’t. I hear the muahahahaha-ing of a cartoon villain as his evil plan comes to fruition.

    Where the hero?

    Big Al (profile) says:

    How things change

    Here in Australia, I used to envy the broadband plans in the US. High data amounts and faster speeds where I was stuck with a 20GB cap and 3Mb on a good day.
    Now we seem to have reversed the situation. The caps started getting larger (at no extra cost) from 20 to 150 to 250 to 1TB and now, no limits. Similarly the speeds have grown dramatically – I am now on 100Mb with a VOIP line included for $100/month.
    Not only that, I can shop around from over 20 ISPs (all national players) who can give me extra things here, lower prices there etc. all due to the unbundling of the phone system.
    I also know that my bill is always $100 except for any calls I make (at a standard published rate). No hidden extras. This applies to all ISPs, who even publish on their wabsites the total cost of the contract (e.g. $2400 over 2 years).
    Similarly with my mobile phone plan. I pay a set monthly amount for the phone, including all national and local calls and messaging, again with a standard published rate for international or premium numbers and a specific data allowance – which, if I go over, merely means that the phone provider temporarily pushes me up to the next tier at a cost of $10 for that month. Having said that I get an SMS as soon as I reach 75%, so I can throttle myself back, or wear the (known) cost.
    This is all regulated to avoid ‘bill-shock’.

    Anonymous Coward says:

    If you want to help protect NN and privacy rules you should support groups like ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Free Press who are fighting to keep Net Neutrality and privacy rules.

    https://www.aclu.org/

    https://www.eff.org/

    https://www.freepress.net/

    also you can set them as your charity on https://smile.amazon.com/

    also write to your House Representative and senators

    http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

    https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?OrderBy=state

    and the FCC

    https://www.fcc.gov/about/contact

    just sayin says:

    No to the EFF even!

    In the beginning there was a VOID, a dark nothing.
    Then there was Thought by Tesla,
    the thought created RADIO
    and then RADIOS made power and frequencies available

    Along came the FCC and wanted to regulate power and frequencies,. and the people said okay regulate the AIRWAVES which consist of power and frequency.

    Then time went on and thought (no not al gore) created the internet. The internet created the fiber, and Cable and the Wireless Mesh Radios. Only the later “Wi-FI tranceivers” was already regulated by the FCC. The WIRED NETWORKS were not.

    Then time went on and someone thought about Net Neutrality. The FCC said wow we’re doing so good destroying the management of the Spectrum in the Public interest by For profit Corporations controlling most of the spectrum, making people more stupid over time why not regulate wires and cables!!! We are GODS of these stupid people who let us destroy power and frequency in the public interest.

    And so they took control of regulating the “wired Internet.”

    Meanwhile many taboo topics remain, I will let your own minds race with thoughts. Yeah it’s all bad.

    Smart meters are similar to Obamacare, here you go EAT THEM. Don’t like them? TOUGH SUCK RUSTY CHAINBRAINSAW CANCER.

    There’s much Secret stuff going on as well.
    And now 5G… weeeeee

    All I can say is the war, and it is a war continues…..
    EFF is not always right.

    *** sometimes ONLY ONE PERSON is right while billions are wrong ***

    FCC never was to regulate anything but POWER and FREQUENCY, they failed at that! Now you all and the EFF give them more power? I fought against this retarded shit the whole way. I say ALL OF YOU ARE WRONG.

    Broadband over powerlines just decimating the ham bands. They say suck on a notch filter. I say fuck your notch filter and your BoPL

    I am whining about past history.
    It’s too late The damage is done.
    BUT LISTEN!!
    I am also telling you anything they touch turns to shit.

    They are at your DMZ touching your LAN CABLES NOW!!
    expect MUCH SHIT to flow into them soon.

    just sayin.

    Ninja (profile) says:

    Re: No to the EFF even!

    Even if you don’t think the FCC should be the one dealing with it it’s quite hard to ignore the FACT that telcos have been up to a whole lot of misbehavior because they can (remember, near monopolies). It’s kind of silly to argue they don’t need to be controlled tightly (unless you are on their paychecks of course).

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Why not ask Ajit Pai to help decode your bill!!!

    Since this fool, (Pai), is in charge of things now let’s have everyone send him e-mails asking him to decipher their bills. Maybe the resulting shitstorm of e-mail will bring him to his senses. If all consumers did this every time these guys do stupid stuff like this the FCC would be deluged with millions of e-mails.

    You can contact him directly at this web page:
    https://www.fcc.gov/about/leadership/ajit-pai?qt-leadership_tabs=6#qt-leadership_tabs

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