The Internet today is everything from a news source, to a personal soapbox, to a shopping hub. With so much of our lives happening online, Internet consumer protection has become crucial. Now the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are teaming up to protect consumers from wrongful practices by Internet service providers (ISP).
Internet accessibility and safety have become an increasingly important part of American life. Last year, when Internet service providers threatened to throttle back connection speeds for low-paying consumers, the call went out for a change in the way the industry is regulated.
In February, 2015, the FCC responded, ruling that broadband ISPs were “common carriers” like telephone companies and utility providers. At the open meeting on the decision FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said:
“It [the Internet] is our printing press; it is our town square; it is our individual soap box and our shared platform for opportunity. That is why open Internet policies matter. That is why I support network neutrality.”
Under the legislation, ISPs must be a neutral gateway to the Internet. They cannot speed up or slow down the flow of information through their servers.
The ruling also created an overlap between FCC regulations and the Federal Trade Commission – which regulates unfair trade practices of non-common carrier industries. Until February, the FTC was in charge of Internet consumer protection.
To resolve the overlap, the two agencies created the “FCC-FTC Consumer Protection Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) laying out how they would work together going forward. The MOU says that agencies will coordinate their actions, consult on investigations, and meet to compare marketplace strategies. They also promise to collaborate on consumer education and industry outreach.
The FCC and FTC have also warned ISPs that they will be sharing consumer protection complaints and engaging in joint enforcement actions when carriers cross the line into unfair trade practices. They are already starting. They have collaborated on an ongoing FTC lawsuit against AT&T for throttling “unlimited” plans, exposing the company to a $100 million FCC forfeiture as well.
By coordinating, the FCC will get access to the FTC's years of information and institutional knowledge regarding Internet enforcement issues. The FTC, in exchange, will be able to proceed with its actions without fear of interfering with ongoing FCC investigations.
This improved efficiency can only benefit the consumers both agencies were created to protect. Coordinated enforcement actions by the FTC and the FCC will have more power to persuade service providers to change their practices and treat their customers more fairly.
Dani K. Liblang is a consumer protection attorney at The Liblang Law Firm, P.C., in Birmingham, Michigan. She represents consumers who are being harassed or mistreated by collections companies. If you believe you have been the victim of unfair trade practices, contact The Liblang Law Firm, P.C., today for a free consultation.