The Federal Communications Commission passed a proposal to overhaul the agency's procedures for processing consumer complaints Thursday in a contentious party-line vote.
Commissioners clashed over the plan with the Republican majority insisting that the new rules are only clarifying longstanding procedures for filing and responding to complaints.
But Democrats at the agency and on Capitol Hill say the change will make the FCC less responsive to informal complaints, and force consumers to go through a formal proceeding to file grievances that costs $225.
“This is bonkers,” Jessica Rosenworcel, the sole Democrat on the commission, said at the FCC’s open meeting Thursday. “No one should be asked to pay $225 for this agency to do its job.”
The new rules largely focus on formal complaints, making changes intended to streamline the agency’s process for adjudicating them. But the new order also eliminates text from existing rules regarding the “Commission’s disposition” in handling informal complaints.
Republican FCC Chair Ajit Pai and Rosemary Harold, the head of the agency’s enforcement bureau, insisted that there are no substantive changes to how the agency handles the informal complaint process.
In a back-and-forth during Thursday’s meeting, Harold called reports to the contrary “false.”
Thursday’s vote capped off what turned into a heated political battle.
Earlier this week, Reps. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care: Dem demands details on Trump-Pfizer pricing deal | Why both sides agree nominee could shift high court to right on abortion | DEA gets more powers to limit opioid production Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers eye ban on Chinese surveillance cameras | DOJ walks back link between fraud case, OPM breach | GOP senators question Google on Gmail data | FCC under pressure to delay Sinclair merger review House Dems worry FCC move to 'streamline' complaints will hurt consumers MORE (D-N.J.) and Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleHillicon Valley: Lawmakers eye ban on Chinese surveillance cameras | DOJ walks back link between fraud case, OPM breach | GOP senators question Google on Gmail data | FCC under pressure to delay Sinclair merger review House Dems worry FCC move to 'streamline' complaints will hurt consumers House Dems seek answers from firm led by former Cambridge Analytica employee MORE (D-Pa.), two of the top Democrats on the committee overseeing the agency, wrote to Pai saying they were concerned that the changes would reduce the FCC’s role in protecting the public interest.
An FCC spokesperson dismissed their concerns, saying they were based on a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the proposal.
--This report was updated at 1:25 p.m.