What Did the FCC Do About That?

By John Dunbar
Associated Press
Friday, March 14, 2008

The Federal Communications Commission processes 95 percent of the citizen complaints it receives but does a poor job of tracking how it resolves them, congressional auditors said in a report released yesterday.

The Government Accountability Office said the agency "needs to improve how it collects and analyzes data on complaints received, investigations conducted and enforcement actions taken to better manage its enforcement program."

"We take alleged violations of our rules very seriously, and we respond to them vigorously," said spokesman Clyde Ensslin. The agency agreed with the GAO's main recommendations and had already taken steps to implement them, he said.

The analysis examined data encompassing 454,000 complaints between 2003 and 2006.

About 9 percent of the closed investigations resulted in an enforcement action, while 83 percent resulted in no enforcement. The GAO said it could not determine why the investigations were closed without action because the "FCC does not systematically collect these data."

The agency did its own analysis and said the vast majority of closures were due to a lack of information or a determination that no violation had occurred.

The report criticized the agency for failing to set performance goals, preventing it from "assuring Congress and other stakeholders that it is meeting its enforcement mission."

The investigation was sought by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's telecommunications and the Internet subcommittee. Markey used the results to push for state enforcement authority over the wireless industry.

"The GAO's report makes clear that any legislation establishing national consumer protection rules for the wireless market must have meaningful, supplementary enforcement at the state level," Markey said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, solely relying upon FCC enforcement for consumer protection is utterly unreasonable in light of the GAO's findings."

Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) has already launched an oversight investigation into how the FCC is run. In a statement yesterday he said that "it appears that the FCC has abdicated its duty to protect consumers."

GAO investigators said poor data systems made it difficult to get answers to questions such as how long it takes the agency to close an investigation and what is the total dollar amount it assesses in fines.

The report noted complaints rose by 40 percent from 2003 to 2006. Telemarketers and violations of the do-not-call list generated the most complaints, followed by billing complaints for both land-line and wireless telephone providers.

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