The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was chastised this week in a Government Accounting Office (GAO) report highlighting problems in the wireless industry and criticizing the FCC for failing to provide sufficient oversight. As the net neutrality battle simmers in the background, the GAO report sends mixed signals to the FCC.
The 71-page GAO report contains a number of illuminating facts and interesting statistics. According to the report, 31 percent of mobile customers find their bill confusing, and 34 percent have been shocked by unexpected charges.
Perhaps the two most compelling figures, though, are that 84 percent are very or somewhat satisfied with their wireless service, but 42 percent of customers that considered switching carriers did not do so because of early termination fees.
Early termination fees, coincidentally, are the focus of the FCC's most recent inquiry. The FCC gave Verizon until December 17th to provide the rationale behind its doubling of the fee for early termination of the contract agreement to $350.
The timing and content of the report from the GAO come at a time when the FCC has already vastly expanded its efforts to rein in the wireless industry. Ironically, the criticism from the GAO that the FCC is not doing enough to oversee the wireless industry and protect consumer interests is in direct contrast with the message the FCC has been getting from the GOP, which is more along the lines of "back off, there's nothing to see here."
Ken Ferree, the president of the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank, took issue with the FCC taking steps to establish some guidelines and ground rules for wireless service providers. Ferree stated "I'm troubled to learn that the FCC is embarking on an exercise that would probably result in rules that are unconstitutional and almost certainly beyond the FCC's statutory jurisdiction."
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), currently running for governor of the state of Texas, applauded FCC efforts to filter and censor Web content, yet was also one of the first lawmakers to protest the FCC attempts to establish rules for net neutrality, stating "these new regulatory mandates and restrictions could stifle investment incentives."
Make no mistake, net neutrality is a high stakes battle. To determine the motives behind supporting or opposing FCC oversight of the wireless industry, simply follow the money. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) has proposed a bill to prevent the FCC from implementing net neutrality, and is also the largest beneficiary of campaign contributions from the wireless industry. I'm sure it's a pure coincidence.
Of course, the Democrats also receive large donations from the industry. Big business likes to hedge its bets by playing both sides of the aisle. Its no secret, though, that the GOP is more 'corporate friendly' than their counterparts across the aisle.
The GAO report itself seems to have an agenda. In chastising the FCC for not doing more to control the wireless industry and protect consumers, the GAO report not-so-subtly refutes the claims that such oversight is outside of the FCC's jurisdiction.
There is still a substantial amount of dust to settle in the ongoing debate over net neutrality. It will be interesting to watch the political tug-of-war that goes on behind the scenes of the ongoing discussion between the FCC, the wireless industry, and consumers.