On January 5, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it was creating a new complaint portal. As shown on the FCC form for complaints, which can be found here (Word format) and here (.pdf), this portal is very much designed to capture complaints arising from the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and, specifically, automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) use and telemarketing.
The FCC’s consumer database, known as the Consumer Help Center, allows the FCC to assist consumers with submission of complaints, to track complaints, to gather information from the consumer as necessary, to review the complaint, to serve the complaint on the company, and to ensure that the company responds within the required 30-day period. The Consumer Help Center also makes publicly available specific complaint data, including:
- Number of complaints by category (including telephone, television, and radio);
- Number of TCPA complaints by category (including telemarketing, robocalls, and junk faxes); and
- Number of complaints per state.
The new complaint portal is already developing results showing that half of all complaints involve robocalls and telemarketing calls (8,200 of 16,500 complaints).
The complaint portal appears to be modeled after what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has already introduced and been using for the past few years. Specifically, in June 2012, the CFPB launched its Consumer Complaint Database, which facilitates the submission of consumer complaints and places accountability on the company to respond. Through the database, the CFPB can track whether a company’s response was timely, how the company responded, and whether the consumer disputed the response. It also gives the CFPB (and the consumer plaintiffs’ bar) the ability to analyze the complaint data to identify trends, including particular business practices, which influences the CFPB’s regulatory and enforcement agenda.
The FCC’s complaint portal, however, will differ fundamentally from the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network, which provides members of the network (only law enforcement authorities) with details of consumer complaints to the FTC regarding robocalls and telemarketing. Sentinel, unlike the FCC’s Consumer Help Center, does not result in referrals of complaints to businesses for response as a matter of routine.
The FCC’s new complaint portal will in effect apply pressure on companies to provide responses to consumers and, in turn, to the FCC. Indeed, a major lesson from businesses’ experience with the CFPB’s process is that responsiveness to and resolution of complaints is essential to avoiding regulatory attention and action. Companies within the ambit of the new portal will need to consider building processes and procedures in place to respond to complaints.