Pai Says FCC Handling Thousands Of COVID-19 Complaints

By Kelcee Griffis
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Law360 (May 20, 2020, 5:17 PM EDT) -- The Federal Communications Commission has received more than 2,000 complaints related to the coronavirus pandemic and is working with carriers to ensure individual service disruptions get personally addressed, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told lawmakers Tuesday.

During an oversight teleconference hosted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Pai said his agency has fielded about 2,200 COVID-19-related complaints, including approximately 500 complaints about the Keep Americans Connected pledge.

Problems with the voluntary pledge — which stipulates that carriers won't discontinue service based on overdue bills, will waive late payment fees and open Wi-Fi hot spots to the public — haven't been allowed to fester, Pai said.

"It's my understanding that most of the complaints that we have received about the pledge have been resolved to ensure that the consumer remains connected throughout the pandemic," he said.

As Law360 previously reported, an early analysis of some 450 complaints suggested that ISPs were not consistently honoring the voluntary, industrywide pledge to make internet access more attainable while many Americans are struggling to pay their bills.

Out of roughly three months of coronavirus-related FCC complaints analyzed by Law360, about 40% pertained to service disruptions, disconnections and other ISP-related barriers to internet access. Other complaints touched on so-called fake news about the pandemic on the airwaves, technical problems with broadcasts of the daily White House briefings and false advertising for predatory "services," such as HVAC cleanings and bogus virus cures.

Aside from issues with the pledge, Pai affirmed Tuesday that people have also been expressing frustration with "billing or network issues, or broadband access generally."

More than half of the 2,200 pandemic-related complaints have already received a response from the carrier, Pai said. He noted the FCC passes such informal complaints on to the relevant carrier, and the company then has 30 days to respond to the customer's issue.

In addition to monitoring consumer complaints, Pai said he's been holding regular calls with major pledge signers as well as the trade associations that represent them. During these conversations, Pai said he has "repeatedly reinforced the importance of maintaining consumer connectivity during this time. That's part of the reason why ... we extended that pledge until the end of June. We recognize that a lot of consumers are still experiencing disruptions."

--Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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