December 17, 1998
|Re:||Implementation of the Subscriber Carrier Selection Changes Provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996; Policies and Rules Concerning Unauthorized Changes of Consumers' Long Distance Carriers.|
I enthusiastically support the rules adopted today by the Commission to combat slamming. The problem of slamming has become rampant, and it is the FCC's job to stop it. I believe our new anti-slamming rules are a major victory for millions of consumers. I expect that these new rules, in concert with our aggressive enforcement actions against slammers, will drastically reduce the frequency of slamming.
The highlight of the Commission's new rules is that a customer who is slammed need not pay the slammer. This is good public policy for two reasons. First, allowing consumers to withhold payment from the slammer helps takes the profit out of slamming. That should substantially reduce the frequency of slamming. Second, allowing a slammed customer to withhold payment compensates the slamming victim for the trouble and aggravation of having been slammed. Anyone who has experienced the frustration and inconvenience of being slammed knows that some compensation is appropriate.
For this new approach to work, however, consumers must read their telephone bills carefully. When a customer receives a bill and notices that his or her preselected carrier has been changed without consent, the customer should immediately call the carrier they had previously selected and get switched back to that carrier. At that point, the customer likely has accumulated charges from the slammer for one month, or part of a month. Our new rules say that the customer need not pay those charges.
If, however, the customer does not realize that his or her preselected carrier has been changed and ends up paying the slammer, the customer is still relieved of payment to the slammer for the first month of service once the slam is discovered. After the one- month period, the customer's payments to the slammer can be recovered by the customer's authorized carrier. The authorized carrier must refund to the customer any amount paid by the customer that exceeds what that customer would have been charged under the authorized carrier's rates. Thus, to take fullest advantage of the Commission's new slamming rules, consumers need to uncover slams the first time the slamming carrier's name appears on the bill.
This new approach to preventing slamming relies on the customer realizing that he or she has been slammed. Because telephone bills today are not always clear, it is possible for the customer not to be aware of a change in presubscribed carriers. To deal with misleading or unclear billing information, the FCC recently proposed requiring carriers to organize their bills more clearly. I expect the Commission will take up consideration of those rules shortly. Adoption of those rules would greatly facilitate discovery of an unauthorized change in presubscribed carriers, thereby ensuring that the customer does not pay the slamming carrier.
Thus, with the adoption of the customer absolution policy, the imposition of two more significant fines against slammers and crammers, and the simplification of complaint filings, it should be clear that this Commission is serious about bringing slamming and cramming to an end.