FCC Forgets About, Then Dismisses, Complaint Detailing Verizon's Long History Of Net Neutrality Violations

from the with-friends-like-these dept

So a few years ago we wrote about Alex Nguyen, one of the only folks to file a formal net neutrality complaint (pdf) with the FCC. Before the rules were killed, users could file a free complaint, of which there were thousands. But if you wanted to actually have your complaint looked at by the FCC, you needed to pay $225, submit an ocean of paperwork, and kick off a long-train of procedural and legal fisticuffs most consumers simply didn't have time for. But Nguyen took the time, and filed a lengthy complaint outlining how Verizon Wireless had a long history of anti-competitive, restrictive behavior that harmed innovation and competition.

With 300 citations across a 112-page document, Nguyen documented Verizon's ugly history, including banning mobile payment services that competed with Verizon's own payment offerings, blocking tablets from working on its network to promote its own tablets, and even banning devices from using GPS to -- you guessed it -- force subscribers to use the company's own subscription GPS services. Most of these efforts violated not just net neutrality, but the "Carterfone" conditions affixed to Verizon's spectrum to ensure the company would treat all devices and services fairly.

Verizon's long history on this front is fairly indisputable, and the company has never been held seriously accountable for any of it. And while Nguyen hoped he'd be the one to help hold Verizon to account, the regulatory capture in the telecom sector had other ideas.

Nguyen formally submitted his detailed complaint back while the net neutrality rules were still active (July of 2016), so the Pai FCC was mandated to take a look at the complaints. But instead of actually taking the only formal net neutrality complaint made seriously, the Pai FCC (surprise!) forgot completely about it for years. Last week the agency remembered it needed to at least respond, and (surprise!) broadly declared that the complaint lacked any compelling evidence whatsoever:

"[W]e deny Nguyen's Complaint for failure to satisfy its burden of proving by competent evidence that Verizon violated the Act or the Commission's rules or orders," the FCC said. "Rather than support its claims with sworn affidavits from witnesses with personal knowledge of the facts, the Nguyen Complaint rests almost entirely on unverified news reports and blog posts."

Except the FCC's claim (surprise!) isn't true. Nearly all of the complaints documented by "blog posts" can be verified by other formal complaints made with the FCC by a litany of consumer groups, companies, and third parties. Nguyen also documented his accusations extensively using first hand information including his own Verizon Wireless bills. He provided easily-confirmed evidence that Verizon routinely used its position as network gatekeeper to, time and time again, favor its own content, services, and apps. And the FCC has repeatedly made it clear, under both parties, that it doesn't really care.

While the company has slowly improved over the years, Verizon has long tried to claim such restrictions were for the "safety and security" of the network. As in, we blocked mobile tablets from our network for years not to give our own shittier tablets a leg up in sales, but because we were concerned about the "safety and security" of the network. Because the 2015 rules carved out exceptions for such behavior, it's pretty easy for giant ISPs to use safety and security to justify a wide variety of bad ideas. Much in the same way fixed-line ISPs use bogus claims of network congestion to justify arbitrary usage caps and overage fees.

Granted not all of the things Verizon does technically violated net neutrality, but they were still clearly anti-competitive the majority of the time. And if we had even remotely functional oversight of the industry and/or a healthy, truly price competitive market, the company would have been punished ten times over for using its role as network operator to unfairly hamper competitors.

It's worth repeating that the FCC's attack on net neutrality didn't just kill net neutrality. It also eliminated transparency requirements that can help you understand what kind of restrictions exist on your broadband line. Without them, it's going to be easier than ever for ISPs to hide anti-competitive shenanigans in a bevy of fine print. The repeal also greatly weakened the FCC's ability to hold ISPs accountable in other ways, shoveling any remaining authority to an FTC that lacks the competence, authority, or resources to police telecom. Really, what could possibly go wrong?

Filed Under: ajit pai, alex nguyen, complaints, evidence, fcc, net neutrality
Companies: verizon


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2019 @ 10:34am

    They could have gone with an even bigger slap in the face and used the same rationale certain judges did with the changes to Rule 41: "well, ok, it was illegal then, but that rule has been changed and it's not illegal now, so... case dismissed!"


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