March 18, 1999
|Re:||Policy and Rules Concerning the Interstate, Interexchange Marketplace; and Implementation of Section 254(g) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended.|
I am pleased to support today's decision requiring long distance carriers to disclose their rates on their websites. This will increase the availability of information to consumers who want to see for themselves what other carriers are offering. This will be a very useful tool for consumers who are on-line and who want to shop around.
Today's decision also ensures that long distance rate information will continue to be available to those entities that organize this information and make it available to customers who want to quickly sift through the offerings of hundreds of long distance companies. In short, this decision is about providing more information to consumers. As any economist will tell you, markets operate best when buyers and sellers have more information, not less.
Although requiring greater public disclosure is a positive step, it does not eliminate the confusion that is sometimes involved in choosing a long distance carrier. Even with today's decision to reinstate the public disclosure requirement, most consumers are likely to encounter practical difficulty in comparing the rates of two or more long distance carriers. The reason is that many long distance carriers use incomplete or misleading descriptions for the new charges they are placing on phone bills. To address that problem, the FCC is moving rapidly toward completion of the truth-in-billing proceeding. I expect that proceeding will ultimately result in much clearer phone bills for consumers. More comprehensible phone bills, in combination with the public disclosure requirement, should make it much easier for consumers to shop for long distance service.
Although today's decision is limited to reinstatement of the information disclosure requirement, I wish to register my strong support for the prior Commission's decision to forbid tariffing by long distance carriers.
Tariffs filed by long distance carriers served a useful purpose in the past, but in today's long distance market, tariffs give carriers unfair control over the terms under which they provide service to customers. In what other line of business can a seller tell its customers one thing, then turn around a file a tariff with the government that legally overrides what the seller just promised its customers? Long distance carriers can - and have - done that. It's called the "filed rate doctrine" and it's perfectly legal if the FCC allows long distance carriers to file tariffs.
Without tariffs, carriers must establish agreements with each of their customers, just like any other type of company. And without tariffs, carriers must inform customers directly of changes to the rates or terms of service. That puts buyers and sellers of long distance on the same footing as buyers and sellers of all other products in a free market. So I applaud the prior Commission's decision to do away with tariffs and I hope the D.C. Court of Appeals upholds that decision.