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Markey Raises Broadband Bill Cramming Issue

The wireless cramming issue may be migrating to wired broadband bills in general, with a push from Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on wireless cramming, the senator asked FCC and FTC witnesses whether they were looking into cramming on bundled bills and whether that is an emerging problem, saying "cramming was scamming" wherever it occurred.

FCC acting Enforcement Bureau chief Travis LeBlanc said that crammers were predators and wherever consumers had bills they were likely to "pop up." He pointed out that to the extent the FCC was looking into wireless bills that included broadband, but Markey pressed him about broadband bills in general, not just mobile.

LeBlanc pointed out that the FCC had last week issued an advisory to ISPs about mobile and broadband network transparency and said the FCC was going to focuse enforcement "in that area."

Democratic FCC commissioner Terrell McSweeny said that she believed the FTC has authority to protect consumers from fraud and that that extends to the mobile environment "and beyond," just as it does in the brick and mortar world.

LeBlanc also said the FCC was looking at promulgating an item on revised cramming rules in the next couple of months that would include asking whether it should block all third-party billing or apply the same truth-in-billing standards that apply to landline service. LeBlanc said he thought the FCC had the authority to do so.

It is hard to talk about communications in Washington these days without bringing up network neutrality, and the cramming hearing was no exception.

Michael Altschul, senior vice president and general counsel of CTIA-The Wireless Association pointed out, when prompted, that his organization has filed comments at the FCC questioning whether it has the authority to impose those regs. He said that without detouring into the network neutrality debate, he said that the FCC was citing Title II common carrier authority for possible bill regs, and whether billing for a noncommunications service as a telecom "could stand to be clarified."

In commenting on the hearing, Consumers Union also said that cramming regs should extend to VOiP bills as well as mobile wireless and landline.