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.

    Hide this

    Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

    Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

    While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

    –The Techdirt Team

    Filed Under: broadband, competition, complaints, digital divide, fcc


    Reader Comments

    Subscribe: RSS

    View by: Time | Thread


    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2020 @ 6:53am

      Every angry rural customer is another potential Starlink buyer

      Starlink is perfect for fixing the lack of connection for rural Americans. Comcast and other ISPs are going to have to explain why they see 10 Million+ subscribers a year leaving once Starlink opens up for anyone to join.

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

    • icon
      Koby (profile), 2 Oct 2020 @ 7:27am

      BBB

      The Better Business Bureau has been an excellent go-between for resolving complaints when consumers don't necessarily know where to go with their problem. They can usually get either a response or a fix out of the business, instead of a consumer just getting the run around.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2020 @ 8:11am

        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.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2020 @ 9:04am

          Re: Re: BBB

          The Consumerist used to have a Worst Company in America Trophy called The Golden Poo Award. Comcast won many times.

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

    • identicon
      Professor Ronny, 2 Oct 2020 @ 10:06am

      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.

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

    • identicon
      vakilbashi.org, 5 Oct 2020 @ 4:27am

      Vakilbashi is the largest intelligent and electronic legal system in Iran and allows you to easily create the contracts, forms and court bills you need, which are prepared by the professional lawyers of the Vakilbashi team, in the shortest possible time and with the highest quality, only By answering a few simple questions; Get step-by-step instructions on how to handle a lawsuit, a step-by-step guide to proving your rights in court, and a video tutorial on how to write a specialized contract.
      https://vakilbashi.org

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


    Add Your Comment

    Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



    Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




    Comment Options:

    • Use markdown. Use plain text.
    • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
    • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

    Close

    Add A Reply

    Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



    Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




    Comment Options:

    • Use markdown. Use plain text.
    • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
    • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

    Follow Techdirt
    Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

    Essential Reading
    Techdirt Deals
    Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
    Techdirt Insider Chat
    Recent Stories

    This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
    Close

    Email This

    This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.