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What Can the FCC Do for You?

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Posted on Dec 6, 2009

The Federal Communications Commission has a long and disappointing history of generally failing to regulate ever-larger media and telecommunications companies, except, during fits of prudishness, in the area of so-called indecency. But the latest incarnation of the FCC is proving to be more of a consumer advocate than its predecessors.

Under the leadership of Julius Genachowski, the commission shocked the tech world by prying into the secrecy of Apple, AT&T and Google.

Around the same time, the chairman made a strong push for net neutrality—a principle that interferes with the profit motive of certain Internet service providers while benefiting the average user.

The FCC’s latest salvo on behalf of John and Jane Q. Public comes in the form of a letter to Verizon Wireless asking, in so many words, how the company justifies charging its subscribers $350 to get out of their contracts.

This can get very wonky very fast, but the commission’s aggressive interest in things like fees and app stores is a refreshing change from just a regulatory body that also has to worry about satellites, white space and boobies.

A little background, if you’re interested: In the U.S., most cell phones are sold with a subsidy. In exchange for committing to a two-year contract, the carrier knocks $200 or so off the price of the phone. Subscribers who break that contract are penalized an early-termination fee, which is typically about the same dollar amount as the subsidy, minus a deduction for each month of the contract the customer has fulfilled. If they give you a $200 discount and you stay only a year, you owe them $100. It’s pretty hard to argue with that logic.

Verizon has completely upset that delicate fairness by upping its early-termination fee for “advanced devices”—pretty much any phone of real interest or use—to $350. And its prorate scheme is such that if you stick to your contract for all but one month of the two years, you still owe $120.

As if that weren’t enough, it seems Verizon has been sneaking $1.99 data usage fees into the bills of unsuspecting customers.

Go get ’em, Julius. And could you please do something about rampant media conglomeration and this Adam Lambert nonsense?  —PZS

Read more about it on Engadget / in The Wall Street Journal / in the FCC’s letter to Verizon.

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By Verizon H9t0R, December 7, 2009 at 7:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I hate hate HATE Verizon Wireless. They make shit up to charge you for, and then you have to call them to try to figure out WTF is going on. I have a large number of lines, and the monthly bill SHOULD be about $250/month. But they (and I shit you not) MAKE SHIT UP to charge you for. Stuff like the $1.99 “data access fee”. I’ve see “Account connection surcharge” and “plan savings reduction” and god knows what the f*** else.

I’m locked in with these shit-ass contracts that I’m buying out, one by one, and switching to MetroPCS, now that I’ve found that the cost of switching is less than I’ll be paying anyway by staying.

So long Verizon Wireless! Your bad karma, HORRIBLE customer service, and criminally negligent billing department are FINALLY coming back to roost!

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By Spiritgirl, December 7, 2009 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment

Wow, imagine that a government agency that is actually attempting to work for the WE THE PEOPLE imagine that!  Now are they going to continue allowing for these mergers and consolidation of media until only the Oligarchy is in total control of all media (both print & tv)?!?!?!

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By scotttpot, December 7, 2009 at 11:40 am Link to this comment

The American People own the airwaves.The huge sums of money spent for
political campaigns is largely spent on television ads . The FCC should insist that
television networks donate airtime during elections so that candidates are not
forced to take millions in contributions from corporations which undermine our

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By C.Curtis.Dillon, December 7, 2009 at 3:25 am Link to this comment

We’ll see how they do with the Comcast-NBC merger.  If they blow it up than we can cheer.  If it goes through, it’s just business as usual and the merger floodgates will be opened even more.  Pretty soon Rupert and his buddies will own the whole place and we can all cheer for Glen Beck and company.  What a mess!

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By media watcher, December 6, 2009 at 6:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The graphic for this article is completely lame. Step it up!

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