- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

The Federal Communications Commission processes most of the 100,000 consumer complaints it receives each year, but the media-regulating agency lacks proper enforcement goals and tracking procedures, according to a government report.

“Without key management tools, FCC may have difficulty fully assuring Congress and other stakeholders that it is meeting its enforcement mission of protecting the consumer, ensuring public safety and encouraging competition,” the Government Accountability Office concluded in a report commissioned by Congress.

Between 2003 and 2006, the FCC received 454,000 complaints and opened investigations into 46,000 of them, closing 39,000. The agency took disciplinary action in 9 percent of instances but for the 83 percent of instances when no enforcement action was taken, FCC databases contain no explanations, the GAO said. Auditors said they were unable to determine what occurred in the remaining portion of cases.

The report said the FCC should improve its data collection and analysis of complaints and develop ways to monitor outcomes of its enforcement actions.

But in a strongly worded response, the FCC said the GAO’s report is misleading because it examines old information, not accounting for improvements since 2006.

Chairman Kevin J. Martin, a Republican who has led the five-member agency since March 2005, defended the commission’s recent enforcement practices.

“Since I became chairman, the Enforcement Bureau is responding to 100 percent of consumer complaints. Additionally, under my chairmanship, the commission has collected a record amount of fines, forfeitures and consent decree payments,” Mr. Martin said.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, touted the report as evidence that supports his proposal of a national consumer protection framework for the wireless industry.

“Without an effective FCC enforcement program, consumers are left out in the cold,” said Mr. Markey, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet. “The GAO’s report makes clear that any legislation establishing national consumer protection rules for the wireless market must have meaningful, supplementary enforcement at the state level.”

Mr. Markey last month held a hearing on draft legislation that would, among other things, give state authorities the power to enforce national rules on communications services.

The most common subject of consumer complaints to the FCC were violations of the do-not-call list, the GAO said.

The FCC is currently under investigation by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which oversees the agency. The GAO report comes one day after the committee requested records dating back three years to aid in its investigation.

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