September 17, 1998
|Re:||Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Truth-in-Billing and Billing Format; (CC Docket 98-170)|
While I support the adoption of this item, I write separately to express my concerns with this agency's direct involvement in commercial billing issues and whether this exercise is a wise use of limited Commission resources.
First, I have deep reservations about the extent of the Commission's authority over the commercial relationship between carriers and their customers. I am not convinced that the Commission has specific statutory authority to regulate a bill's description of that commercial relationship or even the truthfulness of that correspondence. I am especially concerned, however, about regulation of billing when there is nothing factually inaccurate about the carrier's description but it does not reflect the government's preferred explanation. In this regard, I echo Commissioner Powell's concern that the proposals contained in this item not be used to pressure carriers, even indirectly, to remove or alter any current line items or charges; neither should these proposal be interpreted as suggesting that carriers have misrepresented any facts.(1) I appreciate that this Notice is indeed sensitive to these issues, however, and that it seeks comment on the extent of the Commission's jurisdiction in this area. For those reasons, I support the item and encourage parties to comment on the limits of this agency's authority.
Second, as this item acknowledges, there are other federal agencies that may have overlapping or concurrent jurisdiction with regard to these billing issues. In particular, the Federal Trade Commission may have not only overlapping jurisdiction but more direct authority, as well as considerably more expertise in the area of consumer protection and fair advertising. As such, I am reluctant to devote what will be considerable FCC staff resources to these issues when another agency may have substantially more staff that specialize in consumer fraud issues.
1. Indeed, as I have stated before, while the method of recovery is not required, the underlying contributions by the carriers are mandated by the government. "[N]o carrier should have its billing information restricted or limited by the Commission. The Commission has explicitly provided carriers with the flexibility to decide how to recover their payments, including as charges on consumers bills, and I am concerned by implications that such charges are fraudulent or misrepresentations." Dissenting Statement of Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth Regarding the Report to Congress in Response to Senate Bill 1768 and Conference Report on H.R. 3579, rel. May 8, 1998.