The FCC has launched a new online consumer help center to make it easier for the public to file complaints against FCC licensees — like broadcasters and cable operators — and others.
It is billed as part of a broader effort to reform FCC process, but it is also in the wheelhouse of chairman Tom Wheeler's pledge of a consumer-focused agency. The common broadcast complaints in the TV portion of the site include "sports blackouts" and "loud commercials" (which gets its own category [there is also a "broadcast advertising" category]), as well as ones on indecency, closed captioning and complaints about broadcast journalism (the FCC concedes it has narrow authority over that category confined primarily to cases of falsifying the news, though the site does point out that the FCC "has stated publicly that 'rigging or slanting the news is a most heinous act against the public interest.'")
On the cable side, common issues include record retention, signal leakage, rate regulation and signal quality.
The site even puts in a plug for complaining, saying that "by filing a consumer complaint with the FCC, you contribute to federal enforcement and consumer protection efforts on a national scale."
But there is self-interest in the help center as well. The FCC also points out that the new center will help it analyze complaints and complaint "trends" to "identify broader problems and shape policy that will promote better service."
The commission also says the site will help it deliver complaints to service providers so they can respond more quickly.
How so? Mike Snyder, deputy chief of the web and print publishing division of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau said that while the FCC used to serve "serviceable" complaints to providers on a weekly basis, it will now do so daily. He said that it is basically just taking advantage of advances in technology to be able to refer the complaints in closer to real time.
Consumers will also be able to monitor the status of their complaints 24/7.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee with the retirement of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, had sought a consumer-friendlier site. "This is something that should help consumers better hold companies accountable," he said of the FCC announcement.
Consumers Union applauded the move.
“This site will make it easier for people to file and track complaints about problems like annoying robocalls and fraudulent charges, and it will help the FCC spot emerging trends in the marketplace," said Delara Derakhashani, policy counsel for Consumers Union. "This is a one-stop shop for consumers, and it’s a real improvement over the old system where forms and information were spread out and hard to find. We’re pleased that more of this complaint data is going to be available to the public, which will help root out problems and raise the bar for companies."
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.