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GAO says FCC needs better monitoring of wireless carriers

The FCC needs to improve its oversight of wireless carriers because the commission has no way to measure the outcomes of the tens of thousands of complaints it receives each year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report released last week.

The GAO said many U.S. residents aren’t aware that they can complain about problems to the FCC, and a significant number of customers have had problems with billing, terms-of-service contracts or customer service. “While the percentages of dissatisfied users appear to be small, they represent millions of people,” the GAO report said. It was estimated that the FCC receives about 20,000 complaints a year.

In surveys done over the past year, the GAO found that 42 percent of mobile customers who wanted to switch service did not do so because they didn’t want to pay an early termination fee. Another 34 percent of mobile phone customers received unexpected charges on their bills and about 31 percent had difficulty understanding their bill at least some of the time, the GAO said.

“GAO has pinpointed one key reason for consumer dissatisfaction — early termination fees charged by carriers — which raises concerns both from a consumer protection and a competition standpoint,” said Rep. Edward Markey, D-MA. “In the digital age, where technology can change overnight, consumers should not be chained to their wireless provider for years through exorbitant early termination fees.”

The FCC, in a response to the report, noted this summer that it launched three proceedings examining mobile-phone practices, including the flow of information to customers. The FCC is also developing a new complaint and tracking system, Steven VanRoekel, the FCC’s managing director, wrote to GAO.