Monday, August 24, 2009

USA: FCC is begining to tackle the problems of the wireless industry

[network world] With word that the Federal Communications Commission will next week begin to take a broad look at the wireless industry and how it is regulated, one wonders: What took so long?

The Government Accountability Office pretty much wondered the same thing in June with a report on the FCC’s handing of the wireless industry. That report, which was none-too-popular at the FCC, said the agency needed to reexamine its handling of a number of growing problems. The key areas of concern from the GAO report:

Billing: Complexity of wireless billing statements leads to lack of consumer understanding. Bills contain unexpected charges and errors.

Terms of service contract: Consumers are subject to fees for canceling their service before the end of their contract term (early termination fees), regardless of their reason for wanting to terminate service, and effectively locking consumers into their contracts. Consumers are not given enough time to try out their service before having to commit to the contract. Carriers extend contracts when consumers request service changes.

Explanation of service: Key aspects of service, such as rates and coverage, are not clearly explained to consumers at the point of sale (when they sign up for the service).

Call quality: Consumers experience dropped or blocked calls as well as noise on calls that makes hearing calls difficult. Consumers experience poor coverage, which in rural areas may be the result of lack of infrastructure and in urban areas stems from lack of capacity to manage the volume of calls at peak times.

Customer service: Consumers experience problems such as long waits, ineffective assistance, and insufficient resolution to problems.

Some other interesting facts from the GAO survey/report:

GAO estimates about 21% of wireless phone users who contacted their carriers’ customer service were dissatisfied with how their carriers addressed their concerns; FCC’s efforts to handle complaints are an important means by which consumers may be able to get assistance in resolving their problems. However, the results of the GAO’s survey of 1,143 randomly selected consumers, suggested that most consumers would not complain to FCC if they have a problem that their carrier did not resolve. Specifically, the GAO said that of 13% of wireless phone users would complain to FCC if they had such a problem and that 34% do not know where they could complain.
In response to the areas of consumer concern noted above, wireless carriers have taken a number of actions in recent years. For example, officials from the four major carriers, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile, reported taking actions such as prorating their early termination fees, offering service options without contracts, and providing Web-based tools consumers can use to research a carrier’s coverage area, among other efforts. In addition, according to CTIA–The Wireless Association, the wireless industry spent an average of $24 billion annually between 2001 and 2007 on infrastructure and equipment to improve call quality and coverage.

The GAO estimates that about 19% of wireless users wanted to switch carriers since the beginning of 2008 but did not do so. Then 42% of these wireless phone users who wanted to switch but did not because of the early termination fee.
The GAO plans to complete a full report in the fall and expects to make more recommendations then.

FCC will have tough time reining-in burgeoning wireless industry
see also GAO Report

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