Report Says 20 Million U.S. Broadband Complaints Went Unresolved Last Year

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

42 million Americans lack access to any broadband whatsoever. Another 83 million American consumers can only get access to broadband from one ISP, usually Comcast. Tens of millions more are stuck under a broadband duopoly, usually comprising of Comcast/Spectrum and some apathetic telco that refuses to upgrade or repair its aging DSL lines. Data makes it extremely clear the end result of this lack of competition is some of the highest prices for broadband in the developed world, and some of the worst customer service of any industry in America.

Instead of tackling the corruption and regulatory capture that has allowed geographical monopolies to dominate the sector (harming consumers, competition, and technical innovation alike) America enjoys taking the opposite approach: namely lying about the scale of the problem, then routinely kneecapping and defunding the regulators tasked with trying to improve things. The end result: more of the same problems. New data from Fairshake estimates that 20 million American households have unresolved complaints against their ISPs in just the last year. The complaints are the usual fare: overbilling, slow service, crappy customer service, and misleading bogus fees. All told, the outfit estimates that 40 million U.S. homes had filed a complaint about their ISP last year alone:

“In our survey, 37 percent of respondents said that they had had an experience with an ISP in the last year in which they were unfairly charged for service, or otherwise treated unfairly. That?s more than one-third of respondents. And when you extrapolate that finding to the 110.57 million U.S. households that had fixed broadband access in 2018, that?s more than 40 million households with a complaint against their ISP in just one year ? 40,446,500 of them, to be exact.”

Half of those complaints went completely unresolved. The survey also found that many angry customers considered taking legal action, but many couldn’t afford to do so or couldn’t figure out how to make the FCC complaint process work in their favor:

  • 31 percent of respondents said they stopped pursuing legal action when they found the process to be too expensive.
  • 31 percent stopped because they simply weren?t sure how to proceed.
  • 22 percent of respondents said they wanted to pursue legal action, but the process was too complicated.
  • 16 percent of respondents said they needed help pursuing legal action, but couldn?t find the help they needed.”
  • Granted Fairshake’s entire business model is focused on streamlining complaints against corporations. Their efforts to streamline the lopsided and broken binding arbitration experience in particular has pissed off companies that have spent the better part of the last thirty years weakening regulatory oversight, weakening antitrust enforcement, and slowly but surely eroding consumer legal rights via Congress, regulators, and the courts.

    Even then, Fairshake politely avoids explaining why the U.S. telecom sector is so problematic, and, in many ways, getting worse thanks to mindless partisanship and our collective gullibility.

    One, monopolies don’t have to care, that’s why they’re monopolies. Two, instead of focusing on policies that crack down on monopolization, increase competition, and enforce existing rules to protect consumers, the Trump FCC effectively self-immolated at telecom lobbyist behest, creating a massive consumer protection void. Not only that, the FCC actively worked with telecom lobbyists to try and ban states from being able to protect consumers either. Superficially, this was supposed to “drive massive investment” to the U.S. broadband sector, something data proves very clearly never happened.

    In reality, it created a consumer protection vacuum nobody wants to fill. And nobody wants to fill it because, if you haven’t noticed, America routinely prioritizes quarterly revenues over common sense, healthy markets, or giving a shit. It’s why we throw $42 billion in tax cuts at AT&T in exchange for 41,000 layoffs and an investment cut. It’s why we throw countless billions in subsidies at AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Spectrum in exchange for next-generation networks that, mysteriously, somehow always wind up half deployed.

    U.S. broadband is a monopolistic con propped up by captured regulators and feckless lawmakers, and until we’re capable of acknowledging that obvious reality in a way that can break through misleading industry-sponsored noise, we’re going to keep making the same mistakes.

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    Comments on “Report Says 20 Million U.S. Broadband Complaints Went Unresolved Last Year”

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    8 Comments
    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: BBB

    The BBB works okay on smaller businesses and businesses who care about their reputation with the BBB. They have no real ability to change things on their own.

    When it comes to the big names in home and mobile broadband — Comcast, AT&T, Verizon — not only are they the only show in town in many places, but they don’t give a damn about their reputation. They consistently have some of the lowest ratings for any business in the USA and they still grift, raise prices, and give customers the run-around.

    I like your optimism Koby, but this is not something the BBB has any chance of resolving.

    Professor Ronny says:

    Aging DSL

    some apathetic telco that refuses to upgrade or repair its aging DSL lines.

    20+ years ago, I got DSL from Mindspring. They did an excellent job. Mindspring was sold to Earthlink, which did an okay job. Earthlink was purchased by AT&T that did a crappy job. Finally, AT&T threw up their hands and said they were cancelling all the DSL.

    They did lay fiber so I do have a real honest-to-god choice between AT&T fiber and Comcast cable.

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