Frontier’s two buck suck tests FCC’s consumer protection claims

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Frontier Communication’s broadband customers might want to take up the offer of fierce consumer fraud protection that the Federal Communication Commission made as it issued its network belligerence decision this week. They thought they were getting broadband service at a stated price, but Frontier surprised them by adding a $2 “Internet infrastructure surcharge” to their bills. Because it could.

The charge is an attempt by Frontier to advertise a low price for broadband service, while charging a higher one. According to a story by Karl Bode in DSL Reports, a Frontier representative told a customer that “this fee is to defray some of the costs of maintenance of the local network”. You know, the costs you thought you were paying for when you signed up for service. Silly you.

But fear not. The FCC has kicked the consumer protection can over to the Federal Trade Commission. As chairman Ajit Pai put it

We empower the Federal Trade Commission to ensure that consumers and competition are protected. Two years ago, the [net neutrality order] stripped the FTC of its jurisdiction over broadband providers. But today, we are putting our nation’s premier consumer protection cop back on the beat. The FTC will once again have the authority to take action against Internet service providers that engage in anticompetitive, unfair, or deceptive acts.

Well, it will if a federal appeals court reverses an earlier decision and allows the FTC to go after telcos and other companies that operate as common carriers under FCC authority.

Assuming it can, though, the FTC will have no shortage of deceptive Internet service advertising claims to investigate. Comcast is already embroiled in a San Francisco court case over similar practices. Anyone who has tried to figure out how much AT&T or Charter Communications or any of the other big ISPs charge per month for broadband service knows that pain. We’ll find out soon enough whether the FTC intends to do anything about it.