FCC Poised to Reprimand Verizon for Hounding Customers

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission reportedly is expected to rule against Verizon in a complaint filed by three cable companies against the telco.

The FCC plans to tell Verizon it cannot try to talk phone service customers into staying instead of switching to a cable competitor, according to a press account that leaked the pending decision.

“The decision is expected to come out sometime this evening,” FCC Director of Media Relations Robert Kenny told the E-Commerce Times.

In a complaint filed earlier this year, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House said that Verizon had been using industry data to contact customers who planned to take their business to a competing cable provider. Specifically, once Verizon was notified about a pending switch, it would then call the customer and offer incentives, promotions and discounts for staying with the firm, according to the complaint.

Market Information?

Verizon’s defense in this case was that it was merely providing customers with market information about their service options.

The issue was not a slam dunk for the FCC; reportedly there were disagreements among the commissioners about how to rule on the matter. The decision favoring the cable companies was apparently made based on U.S. telecom law and earlier FCC decisions on long distance service provider switches.

Confusing Brew

This is hardly the first cable versus telco dustup. Ever since service providers began reaching for more market share by offering bundled services, such tactics — and the resulting disputes over their fairness and the vendors’ motivations — have been part of the overall landscape.

Verizon has logged its share of complaints against cable competitors as well: It asked the FCC earlier this year to force cable companies to accept switch or disconnect notices from rival phone providers instead of requiring customers to cancel their accounts directly.

Misleading advertising about the cable companies’ fiber optic networks is also a headline issue right now, with some cable company customers reportedly feeling misled by TV ads mocking Verizon’s FIOS TV and Internet service.

From this brew, few certainties have emerged. One, though, is that the FCC can expect to field more complaints.

Another thing that’s beyond dispute is that the providers must remain true to their privacy and customer service agreements, Kathleen E. Finnerty, a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig, told the E-Commerce Times.

Thursday’s decision in Quon v. Arch Wireless is a case in point. “If a company is doing something — or not doing something — that is outside of its contract, it will get called on it,” she said.

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