May 2, 2000
|Re:||First Order on Reconsideration, Implementation of the Subscriber Carrier Selection Changes Provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and Policies and Rules Concerning Unauthorized Changes of Consumers' Long Distance Carriers (CC Docket No. 94-129).|
As I have stated on previous occasions, I vigorously support the vast bulk of this Commission's efforts to combat "slamming:" the unauthorized change of a subscriber's preferred carrier (usually a long distance company). The potentially egregious nature of slamming is well-recognized. It has resulted in consumers, their authorized carriers and regulators spending countless hours and immeasurable patience to identify and rectify these violations. Slamming insults the procompetitive, deregulatory framework of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 because it robs consumers of their ability to patronize their vendors of choice and, if not stemmed, requires increasing regulatory intervention to protect unwitting consumers. To the extent we all are eager to hasten this villain from its too-prominent role on the competitive stage, my colleagues and I applaud state and federal anti-slamming initiatives in unison.
I am especially pleased that, in this Order, we adjust one aspect of our slamming implementation that brings it more in line with the plain meaning of the statute. Upon adoption of some of our slamming rules in 1998, I expressed concerns regarding narrow aspects of those rules because of their apparent inconsistency with the plain language of section 258 of the Act. Section 258(b) provides that
Any telecommunications carrier that violates the verification procedures described in subsection (a) and that collects charges for telephone exchange service or telephone toll service from a subscriber shall be liable to the carrier previously selected by the subscriber in an amount equal to all charges paid by such subscriber after such violation . . . (1)
Although the courts have harshly criticized the Act for providing ambiguous and even sharply conflicting guidance to the Commission, (2) the Act could not be more clear that a slamming carrier is liable to the authorized carrier for the entire amount the slammed subscriber has paid to the slammer. In light of the unambiguous language of section 258(b), I objected to our previous decision to require authorized carriers to forward to the subscriber charges the subscriber has paid to the slamming carrier (which the authorized carrier then collects from the slammer) to the extent those monies exceed the amount the subscriber would normally have paid the authorized carrier (the so called "re-rating" issue).
In this Order, however, I believe that my colleagues and I have largely corrected this problem. Specifically, we have adjusted our analysis to base relief to the consumer solely on the basis of provisions other than section 258. I believe this approach takes advantage of section 258's express allowance that the authorized carrier remedy of that section is "in addition to any other remedies available by law." (3) Sections 206-208, in particular, enable consumers to make complaint to the Commission and the federal district courts for damages for violations of the Act, including slamming violations. (4) In light of consumers' right to sue for damages in provisions outside of section 258, as well as the "other remedies" language of section 258 itself, I am comfortable that we can provide relief to consumers over and above the authorized carrier remedy in section 258(b). Because we will no longer require authorized carriers to give consumers a portion of the carrier's remedy under the statute, moreover, I believe our new approach is consistent with that remedy.
I also am comfortable with the judgment that we should allow the authorized carrier to collect the consumer's remedy along with the authorized carrier remedy under section 258 (i.e., the 150% proxy approach). Although there are no doubt analytically cleaner approaches to calculating the consumer's damages, I believe that this proxy adequately compensates consumers while providing an option whereby, in many cases, authorized carriers will not be further penalized after a slam by having to make costly financial calculations or provide potentially sensitive customer information to slamming carriers.
In closing, I wish to thank the Common Carrier and Enforcement Bureaus, as well as my colleagues, for their tireless efforts and open-mindedness in this area. Such qualities will, I believe, ultimately enable us to win the war against slamming.
2. See, e.g., AT&T Corp. v. Iowa Utils. Bd., 525 U.S. 366, 397 (1999) ("It would be a gross understatement to say that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is not a model of clarity. It is in many respects a model of ambiguity or indeed self-contradiction.").
3. 47 U.S.C. § 258(b).
4. 47 U.S.C. §§ 207-208.