50,000 “Missing” Complaints

by Mike Wendy on December 7, 2017

A handful of Senate Democrats (and others, like FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel) have made some headlines lately about 50,000 consumer complaints “missing” from the Restoring Internet Freedom (RIF) rule making docket. This PR stunt – designed as part of the last-ditch efforts to delay the FCC’s upcoming RIF vote next week – was inspired by the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) and its call to get informal complaints into the RIF docket, ostensibly to “prove” the need for Title II Net Neutrality.

What you may not know about the complaints is this: The NHMC commissioned a report on the 50,000 “missing” complaints, and it turns out that, well, the 50,000 “missing” is more like 20,000. (Even that residual number is highly suspect in this PR-spin nonsense)

It seems that approximately two-thirds of the “missing” complaints are irrelevant for this exercise. The researcher who wrote the study threw out over 30,000 complaints because nearly 26,000 of them (relating to data caps) were connected with “previous consumer advocacy campaigns;” and close to 9,000 were related to privacy matters, implicating third-party issues outside the control of ISPs. This left the researcher with a sample of 20,000 “missing” complaints not tainted by what she terms as “noise.”

Let’s be clear – the complaint process is no proxy for rule making comments, the latter of which has its own, well-worn system (e.g., the ECFS) to gather input from the public.  And, last I checked, millions used the ECFS to comment on the RIF.

The FCC has noted that the informal complaint process is used to identify trends in the marketplace; it is not a direct enforcement tool. Anyone can file a complaint on a range of Internet or other communications issues, such as broadcasting, cable, etc. But it will not result in a fine by the FCC for “infractions.”  Generally, parties to any given dispute work to resolve their differences, with the FCC mainly facilitating those communications. Most all complaints get resolved.  If a resolution doesn’t occur, however, one could take the unresolved complaint further to the formal complaint process, which is essentially a full court hearing.  This is rare.  So rare, in fact, that no Net Neutrality complaints have ever gone forward at the Commission.

The initial Genachowski Net Neutrality order in 2010 laid out the informal / formal Net Neutrality complaint process. That system was developed further by the 2015 Open Internet Order and the Wheeler Commission. With all the noise that the sky is falling and Net Neutrality violations are everywhere (or could be, that is), where’s the avalanche of formal complaints demonstrating the “problem” (that is, the real stuff)?

Just like the “missing” complaints – it ain’t there.

The FCC has all the information it needs to make an informed decision on its proposed rule.  The delay tactics used by the Net Neutrality lovers are as empty as their 50,000 “missing” complaints.

Let’s turn down that noise.

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