The Federal Communications Commission is trying a new tactic to get the nation's phone companies to provide better service and to be more responsive to consumer complaints. The FCC will try to shame them into it, and they want you to help.
Beginning this month, the FCC's new Consumer Information Bureau will release reports based on complaints about local and long distance telephone service received on the Commission's toll free complaint hotline. Each complaint call is answered by a consumer advocacy and mediation specialist who, using newly developed software, can deal with the substance of the complaint, give advice to the caller, and put the details of the complaint into a database where it can be used to compile all sorts of statistics about not only the types of complaints the FCC is receiving, but also which companies they are being lodged against.
At a June forum, most of the nation's phone companies and long distance providers heard from FCC chairman William Kennard and CIB chief Lorraine Miller about the plan. At the meeting CIB staffers detailed examples of the types of complaints the FCC receives, and the CIB released statistics about complaints based on an examination of 1,000 calls the hotline received this Spring. But the names of the companies about whom the complaints were received were withheld.
Now, however, the FCC will begin naming names in much the same way as the Department of Transportation does when it releases on-time reports, lost-luggage statistics, and complaints lodged against the airlines. "The companies have been given 90-plus days notice that we are going to do this, so they can look at their own customer service problems," says an FCC spokesman. "We have detailed the kinds of calls we have been receiving so they know what areas to examine."
To date, most of the users accessing the hotline have been consumers. Now the FCC wants to hear from small business owners unhappy with their phone service or unable to resolve problems with their providers. You can lodge a complaint by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (888-225-5322). TTY access is available at 888-TELL-FCC (888-835-5322). The FCC will eventually develop computer access for the process.