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1/22/2010
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FCC Launches Consumer Task Force

This week the Federal Communications Commission also said it will work to tighten restrictions on "robocalls" by telemarketers.

The FCC has launched a consumer task force to investigate ways to safeguard consumer rights in the context of proliferating telecommunications networks and technologies.

Armed with a Government Accountability Office report urging the FCC to tighten its consumer protection rules, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said Joel Gurin, currently chief of the commission's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, will head the cross-agency Consumer Task Force. The new FCC unit will include every Commission bureau chief, the chief of the office of engineering and technology, the general counsel, and the managing director.

"As communications networks and technologies become increasingly complex and essential to Americans' everyday lives," Genachowski said in a statement, "the Commission must be a vigilant watchdog for the consumer."

The GAO released a report in December entitled "Telecommunications: FCC Needs to Improve Oversight of Wireless Phone Service." The report said that consumer complaints about wireless service -- although small in number -- represented "millions of customers" when extrapolated to the entire wireless consumer population.

"Our lack of competitive focus in telecommunications raised consumer bills, I believe, by billions of dollars," said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. "Our blissful blessing of evermore media industry consolidation was another costly assault on consumer well-being."

Wireless industry trade association CTIA has long maintained that the existing structure of the wireless industry has served consumers well, because prices have generally been lowered and service has improved.

In a related development this week, the FCC said it will work to tighten restrictions on so-called "robocalls," the automated calls placed to residential telephone subscribers often without their approval. Genachowski noted that rules regulating robocalls were adopted nearly two decades ago. He added that new technologies enable telemarketers to make more than 1,000 prerecorded message calls a minute.

New rules applying to the automated calls would also be developed to harmonize rules between the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission's Telemarketing Sales Rule.

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