Summary:

Over the past year, the FCC has begun cracking down on the wireless industry by opening up several inquiries, ranging from wireless billing…

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski
photo: Tricia Duryee

Over the past year, the FCC has begun cracking down on the wireless industry by opening up several inquiries, ranging from wireless billing practices to what applications make it in to the Apple’s App Store.

Now, it has a study to back up some of its concerns. The Government Accountability Office released a report today that recommended the FCC increase oversight and do a better job of enforcing consumer protection rules, AP reports. One of the key findings backs up a bill that’s being proposed by several senators that aims to set limits on the early termination fees. The report found that while 84 percent of consumers are satisfied with their mobile service, 42 percent of consumers who wanted to switch carriers, said they didn’t because of early termination fees.

However, it’s unclear whether the report asked consumers whether they would be willing to pay more for phones in order to leave their contracts early. That’s been the industry’s objection to any regulation of early-termination fees. Today, customers typically have the choice of paying full-price for a device, and having no termination fee, or getting a subsidized device, and then being on the hook to pay for that device if they leave before the carrier has recouped its money. Increasingly, the subsidies have gotten bigger as expensive smartphones have become more popular

The GAO also reported a number of other findings:

– most wireless consumers with problems do not complain to the FCC, or don’t know where to complain.
– the FCC may be unaware of consumer trends because it lacks a way to analyze complaints.
– the FCC has not enforced billing rules for wireless carriers.
– FCC infrequently talks to state authority about regulating wireless carriers, leading to a reluctance by some states to deal with billing disputes and other problems.

The GAO said it surveyed 1,100 random wireless customers around the country.

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