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December 17, 1998

Separate Statement
Commissioner Susan Ness

Re: Implementation of the Subscriber Carrier Selection Changes Provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, CC Docket No. 94-129

This Commission receives more complaints about slamming than any other telephone-related complaint, and despite past efforts by this Commission and state commissions the number of complaints is still rising. With this Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, we take strong measures both to empower consumers and to punish carriers that engage in slamming practices.

Slammers are nothing if not bold. Victims of slamming cut across socio-economic lines and political parties, and include CEOs, grandmothers, and members of my own staff. I know how outraged consumers are when they are slammed. They feel violated. I have received innumerable e-mails expressing consumers' frustration, and I am certain my colleagues have had the same experience. Three times in the past several years, I have testified on slamming at field hearings before Senate committees, and I have heard the outrage loud and clear from legislators and their constituents.

There is no doubt that we must take additional steps to act swiftly and punish wrongful carriers severely.

The rules we adopt today are about empowering the victim -- the consumer -- and preventing slamming carriers from ever receiving payment for their wrongful actions. Once a payment enters the hands of a wrongful carrier, there is always the chance that the wrongful carrier will disappear or file for bankruptcy, as we have now learned from experience. "Absolution" -- permitting the customer not to pay for service received from a slamming carrier -- should make it less likely that carriers will engage in slamming in the first place.

I share the concern that unlimited absolution might lead to false claims of slamming. But we have followed the lead of Congress in limiting absolution to a period of 30 days. I also would have entertained establishing a dollar cap on the amount of absolution, so as to dissuade those who might be tempted to abuse the process. To those who object to any rule providing an absolution remedy, I ask: why penalize all consumers for fear that some might game the system? Should such abuse arise, the Commission can always modify this rule. For now, our primary focus is on deterring injury to consumers, and providing a meaningful remedy when it occurs.

Of course, it is not just the consumer but the rightful carrier that is injured by slamming. During this interim period, before we can adopt even stronger anti-slamming rules proposed in the Further Notice, we are faced with a difficult decision: when no payment has been made, we can give priority to compensating the authorized carrier or to compensating the consumer. I choose the consumer.

It is the consumer whose choice has been taken away; it is the consumer who has been troubled and inconvenienced; it is the consumer upon whom we rely to notice the problem and to register the complaint. I am confident that we will adopt further measures to ensure that authorized carriers are also compensated, and that slammers are doubly penalized. But in the interim our first concern must be the consumer. Limited absolution is a form of compensation, not a windfall.

In addition to harming the consumer and the authorized carrier, slamming also threatens competition. The centerpiece of competition is consumer choice. If consumers choose a carrier and their selection is changed against their will, then consumers are not reaping the benefits of competition. We are committed to making competition a success. So, in addition to adopting pro-consumer rules, we are also increasing our enforcement efforts and instituting new procedures that will make it quicker and easier for consumers to file and resolve slamming complaints.

Congress has sent us a clear message: stop carriers from slamming. In turn, we are sending slammers a clear message: we have zero tolerance for such practices.