Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Catch 475

He was right. It’s been over a month since I’ve written anything. To say I’ve been extremely busy is not exactly painting the correct picture, I have been wicked busy. But added to that was my inability to find anything amusing about what is going on. So it was good that he nagged me.

I decided to figure out if I could file a cable modem complaint on the FCC’s website. Being able to get assistance on cable modem problems goes to the heart of the national franchising debacle. The FCC is in charge of cable modem customer service and if national video franchising gets passed, they will also be in charge of video customer service.

The FCC says it got 163 cable modem complaints in 2005. This number greatly puzzled me since I am quite positive there are more than 163 cable modem subscribers in this country. So I went to the FCC website and dummied up a complaint. I did feel some hesitation about it because I didn’t want Comcast coming back and calling me a liar, but it wasn’t really a lie it was empirical research. I’m sure Comcast understands that stretching the truth to protect your interests is not exactly a lie, it’s politics.

You have to scroll down the FCC homepage to find the Consumer Center, it’s a couple of clicks below “Modernize the FCC” where they list the following key objective: “Structure the FCC so that it can flexibly respond to Congress, consumers, and the communications industries in a timely manner.”

I sure am glad they’re thinking about modernization and re-structuring because they certainly will need to do some organizational tweaking to manage those national franchises.
Once I found the “Filing Complaints” link I clicked on it and up popped a page that said “Filing a Complaint With The FCC is Easy.” I was given several options, I chose to file “Electronically” using General Complaint FCC Form 475. Instructions are as follows:

“This form can only be used for complaints related to: 1) wireless and wireline telecommunication services; 2) non-programming related cable, broadcasting and satellite services; and 3) communications accessibility issues. For example, use Form 475 for general telephone complaints such as billing disputes, cramming, telephone company advertising practices, paging services, unsolicited telephone marketing calls and unwanted faxes, and accessibility by persons with disabilities to telecommunications equipment and services. If you are complaining that your telephone company was changed to another telephone company without your permission (SLAMMING), you must use Form 501 to file the complaint. If you are complaining about the allegedly obscene, profane, or indecent content of a radio or television program, you must use Form 475B.

Note the telephone centric nature of these instructions. It’s been four years since the FCC classified cable modem as an information service and yet there is no specific instruction or specific form for filing a cable modem complaint. In fact, there is no specific instruction for complaints on accessibility issues for disabled consumers. The form is quite specific for telephone billing, telemarketing and unsolicited faxes.

Being an educated consumer, I blew past these options and went directly to the box where you could just write your complaint.

Briefly describe your complaint and include the following information in your statement, if applicable:
account number(s) involved with your complaint if that number is different than your telephone number;
date(s) of the telephone bill involved with your complaint;
the resolution you are seeking.

I wrote that my cable modem goes in and out and I have complained several times but it still hasn’t been resolved. Thinking I had all the necessary information included I hit submit. To which a message came up as follows:

Please enter telephone service problem number

It irked me a bit given that I wasn’t complaining about my telephone service but I couldn’t submit the complaint without entering a telephone service problem number. That exacerbates things given my telephone service is with Verizon and my cable modem is with Comcast. So which telecom company does the FCC investigate? I entered my number and once again hit submit.

This time a message popped up telling me I had to choose either a “residential” option or a “business” option or once again I wouldn’t be able to submit. Fine! I chose the residential option. By this time I was more than a little irritated with Form 475. I hit submit again and I got the following:

Filing for: Bunnie Riedel has been received by the FCC
Thanks for your information. When inquiring about your complaint, be sure to reference the following confirmation number:
FORM475: 06-W11836004
Additionally, be sure to mention that you filed this complaint over the internet. Finally, the carrier will have 30-45 days to respond to this complaint.

Hold up the bus Gus! The carrier will have 30-45 days to respond? But if my cable modem isn’t working now I can’t wait 30-45 days for resolution, I am running a business after all!

I looked around and found you can file a complaint without using Form 475, all you have to do is send an email to:

Send General and Indecency complaints to
Send Slamming complaints to

Or you can pick up the phone and call. After I got through five minutes (yes I timed it) of messages welcoming me, telling me the call might be monitored, giving me information about the Hurricane Katrina wireless universal service fund, asking if I was a state or local emergency services agency, giving me an option if I had applied for a license, I found I could get all other services by pressing 4.

The #4 option included the do not call registry, telephone related issues, slamming cramming, universal service fund and access charges, interference to home entertainment electronic equipment, how to order forms, the status of my FCC license and whether or not I was a member of the press. Once through that I could hit zero for the next “Specialist.”

A lovely lady answered the phone and I asked “Is this where I file a cable modem complaint?”

She said “We don’t regulate cable modem. You can file a complaint and we will forward it to the carrier.”

“Well what should I do if they don’t fix the problem?”

She said “You can take legal action. I would advise you to contact a lawyer.”

Then she let me know that “Filing a Complaint With The FCC is Easy” all I had to do was go to their website and find Form 475.

Given that the first words out of the “Specialist’s” mouth were “We don’t regulate cable modem” I now suspect that those 163 people who actually did file a complaint were just really the persistent types. I’d like to meet some of those people and find out if their “carrier” did get back to them within 30-45 days. And if so, were their complaints resolved or did they heed the advice of the “Specialist” and get themselves a lawyer? Are they now in court and how is that going?

The National Association of Officers and Advisors (NATOA) did a survey of just 100 of its members and found in one year (2005) they had received 34,000 complaints regarding cable service. Of these 34,000 I have no doubt there were plenty that were cable modem even though the FCC stripped the ability of the local government to regulate cable modem over four years ago.

This begs the question, when national franchising legislation gets passed and the modernized FCC takes over, will they train their “Specialists” to say “We don’t regulate cable services. You might want get a lawyer and take legal action.”

And if that’s the case there sure will be a heck of a lot of lawyers needed, which makes me wonder if I shouldn’t rethink that law degree thing.

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