FCC Proposes Stricter Anti Slamming and Cramming Rules

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is seeking comments on proposed rules regarding carrier phone changes and charges for additional services. In its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and accompanying press release, the FCC highlights the increasing use of deceptive practices by telephone carriers, particularly targeting the most vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and non-English speakers, as a basis for proposing additional protections against slamming and cramming.

The FCC defines “slamming” as the practice of “switching a consumer’s traditional wireline telephone company for local, local toll, or long distance service without permission,” and the act of “cramming” occurs when carriers include unauthorized charges on consumer bills. Although existent protections are in place aimed at combating such deceptive practices by telephone carriers, the FCC believes that some carriers have “abused the current system to defraud consumers.” As such, the FCC has displayed a willingness to strengthen the rules that presently govern slamming and cramming practices, so as to provide increased protection to consumers.

In its notice, the FCC proposes certain specific rule amendments. Namely, the FCC notes that although slamming itself is expressly banned by existing rules, misrepresentations in the sales call that oftentimes precedes a “slam” is not expressly prohibited. In its Notice, the FCC proposes to codify such additional restrictions, prohibiting carriers from making deceptive misrepresentations in sales calls. Additionally, with regard to cramming, the FCC notes that while it has adopted “truth-in-billing” rules to aid in the discovery of cramming, the Commission has thus far failed to codify a rule expressly prohibiting the practice. As such, the FCC proposes the codification of a ban on cramming.

Takeaway: Although third-party LEC billing has been greatly diminished due to carrier decisions, the FCC is making this a regulatory priority and recent enforcement actions highlight that the FCC continues to pursue such claims. Carriers and service providers should take the FCC’s proposed rules into consideration as part of their marketing and compliance efforts.

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