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. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Aug 2019 @ 4:52am

    'He HAS that? ... I mean, still doens't count.'

    "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."

    Given their response and actions to date I imagine that if he had that, for every claim, they simply would have moved the goal-posts even further.

    'For future reference sworn affidavits only count if personally overseen by a federal judge who's name starts with an 'r', and anyone who worked with or had any business relationship with the company doesn't count because they aren't unbiased enough to be honest and trustworthy. Also any accusations of wrongdoing will be summarily dismissed unless personally admitted to by the Verizon CEO and board of directors in a written, legally binding statement statement.'

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Pixelation, 16 Aug 2019 @ 6:50am

    Regulatory Capture

    What do we expect when the guy overseeing the FCC was employed by the company in question?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 16 Aug 2019 @ 7:32am

    Re: Regulatory Capture

    We should expect government, even bureaucrats, to do their jobs. The problem is that politicians, and bureaucrats, have been working at reducing expectations for many years, so much so that expectations are not only at a historic low, and trending down, but every time there is some hope for a bottom, someone does something because there is a need to do something about something and the bottom falls away. Again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2019 @ 8:17am

    This is actually good though. It can now be appealed to a judge, and future complaints can possibly skip over the administrative process as being "Futile."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2019 @ 8:33am

    Re:

    Since the state actors are on the other side of this lawsuit, no action will ever harm them. They give access to their network in return for obtaining virtual monopolies and the ability to apply monopoly taxes, I mean data caps, on their serfs, I mean subscribers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2019 @ 8:47am

    Re: Re: Regulatory Capture

    Wheeler had worked for a telco too, but arguably made some efforts to serve the public rather than the ex-employer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    JoeCool (profile), 16 Aug 2019 @ 10:14am

    Re: Re: Re: Regulatory Capture

    And we were appropriately surprised when he worked for the public instead of the telecos. He was the exception, not the rule, which is really sad. :(

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. 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!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    WarioBarker (profile), 16 Aug 2019 @ 1:22pm

    Mr. Nguyen,

    After reviewing your formal complaint, our ruling is as follows:

    Go fuck yourself.

    Signed,
    The FCC

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2019 @ 7:42pm

    So... when was the last time anyone saw Richard Bennett come up for air?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Aug 2019 @ 7:57pm

    About that tense choice...

    What do we expect when the guy overseeing the FCC was employed by the company in question?

    Given his actions to date, and the stance he's taken regarding the company in question and the industry overall, I'd say there's a good argument to be made that he at least still considers himself to be working for the company, with the only difference that he's not officially on the payrolls at the moment.

    As soon as he 'retires' though...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Aug 2019 @ 8:07pm

    Re:

    While that is basically what they said, they'd never be honest enough to be that blunt about it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Glenn, 17 Aug 2019 @ 3:34am

    Another "Pai" in the face for America.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Aug 2019 @ 3:52pm

    I just had a thought, tangentially related to this article.

    Isn't "vertical scaling" just corp-speak for acquiring monopoly power ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2019 @ 8:07am

    Re:

    A web search tells me that "vertical scaling" refers to computing power. Assuming you mean "vertical integration" or "vertical industrialization," that means acquiring other businesses and such so that your corporation has control over the production of a product from start to finish; so, you don't own just the factory, but also the shipping, the farms, the mines, etc. Contrast this with "horizontal integration," which refers to buying/expanding control over a particular part in a product's supply chain; so, you might not own the farms, but you own all the factories. In terms of acquiring monopoly power, I would think that horizontal expansion gets you there more than vertical, but you could get there either way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 5:32am

    Re: Regulatory Capture

    We need Government to get out of the free market! If you have proof of VZW hampering your services, switch services! Why do we need a Gov't agency (that is a waste of money) to fine them and get guess what! More money! I'd rather tell a company with my wallet that i'm not happy, but you sheeple just want the Gov't overlords to take care of everything. Well guess what, this is what happens. Nothing gets fixed. Stop trying to force someone to do the dirty work for you and switch companies if you don't like it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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