Feature: FCC Quiet on Petition to Reconsider TPV Drop-off Rule

Posted: 03/2002

FCC Quiet on Petition to Reconsider TPV Drop-off Rule

By Peter Lambert 

John Nakahata

Anniversaries usually are occasions for celebrations, but this month marks a year of FCC inaction on a petition dear to the hearts and pocketbooks of telecom resellers. No tangible signs of action stand in sight.

In August 2000, the commission issued its landmark antislamming rules, designed to protect the public from bad actors that would switch a consumer’s carrier without the consumer’s knowledge. The industry has adapted to most of the rules, but one element continues to sting: sales people are forced to leave the conversation with buying prospects once a third-party verification (TPV) provider is brought on to confirm each deal.

“In all consumer-protection law, there’s a balance between protection and upholding the consumer’s right to information, as well as the marketer’s right to provide it when its not coercive or misleading,” says John Nakahata, partner with Washington, D.C.-based law firm Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis. “Instead, the FCC presumed the speech was bad and cut off all speech.”

Consequently, it was March a year ago that a group of companies, led by TPV provider VoiceLog LLC, and joned by AT&T Corp., Capsule
Communications Inc., Cox Communications Inc., the Small Business Administration and others asked the FCC to reconsider the “drop-off” clause of the rules, offering a speak-when-spoken-to alternative for marketers. The group based its request on the First Amendment and undue harm to business arguments.

Nakahata says, under the existing rules, consumers often ask or re-ask questions about pricing or features after the marketer is gone and it’s too late. The TPV guy is in no position to provide answers and shouldn’t, he says.

“We’ve argued this stifles business because you don’t know whether a potential customer didn’t buy the service because he didn’t want it or because he grew frustrated with the system. It also hurts the consumer if he missed

a good deal because he didn’t understand a complicated system.”

As of mid-January, prospects for commission action remained unknown. FCC Common Carrier Bureau spokesman Michael Balmoris says no “rumblings” about the petition coming up for action have been heard. Although current Chairman Michael Powell has vowed to clear backlogs on issues, Nakahata says, “Right now, the trains aren’t running.”

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