GAO: FCC needs to improve oversight of wireless

The FCC needs to improve its regulatory oversight of the wireless industry, according to a new government report that highlights the FCC's failure to monitor the outcomes of the tens of thousands of complaints from wireless subscribers it receives each year.

The report, from the Government Accountability Office, outlined a littany of what it said were missteps by the agency: that the FCC may not be aware of trends in consumer complaints because it lacks a way to analyze them; that the commission has not enforced billing rules for wireless carriers; and that most subscribers do not complain to the FCC and may not know where to voice their concerns. Additionally, the report found the FCC has not provided clear direction to state regulators on what authority they have over wireless billing, fees and other issues.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), a member (and former chairman) of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on communications, technology and the Internet, requested the report. The missive comes more than three months after the FCC, under its new chairman, Julius Genachowski, initiated wide-ranging inquiries into how to promote innovation in the wireless industry, how to analyze competition in the industry and how best to provide consumers with information about their mobile service plans.

The GAO based its findings in part on a survey of 1,100 wireless customers, and found--among other statistics--that 84 percent of respondents were satisfied with their wireless service. Wireless trade group CTIA pointed to the number as evidence of a relatively healthy industry: "In this fiercely competitive industry, our members work very hard for each customer to provide them with the best products and services," CTIA President Steve Largent said in a statement.

However, the GAO noted that "while the percentages of dissatisfied users appear to be small, they represent millions of people." The report said subscribers complained about customer service, wireless billing practices and early termination fees, among other issues.

In a written response, the FCC noted it had already begun a "sweeping review of the wireless market" and is taking "appropriate steps to fashion any needed regulatory action for protecting consumer interests in a competitive, innovative, and, therefore, more complex world of consumer choice."

For more:
- see this AP article
- see this IDG News Service article
- see the GAO report (PDF)

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