How to File an FCC or FTC Complaint About Your Internet
The bottom line: most customers will have better results by contacting their provider to resolve issues. Complaints to the FCC and FTC about ISP actions that don’t violate any regulations will be dismissed. Providers are private companies and are rarely required to service specific areas.
In an ideal world, your relationship with your ISP and your quality of internet service would be excellent. When companies violate the terms of your agreement, however, the FCC and FTC offer consumers a way to register complaints and ensure that they are treated fairly.
What Is the Difference Between the FTC and FCC?
The FTC and FCC are two separate organizations that share similar goals.
The FTC, or Federal Trade Commission, primarily concerns itself with preventing anticompetitive practices from businesses who would use its power to take advantage of the consumer.
The FCC, also known as the Federal Communications Commission, has similar goals but concentrates its efforts on policing the telecommunications industry.
To put it simply, the FCC regulates the telecommunications industry while the FTC takes a broader approach — regulating businesses across a wide range of industries.
In 2018, the FCC repealed Net Neutrality, which transferred some responsibilities to the FTC. Now, under the Biden Administration, Net Neutrality is set to return in 2022, resulting in those offloaded responsibilities to return to the FCC.
It’s possible to file complaints for telecommunications issues with both the FTC and FCC. We recommend, however, focusing your efforts first on the FCC since the telecom industry is still largely under its purview.
How to File a Complaint With the FCC or FTC
Before you file a complaint with the FCC or FTC, you should first make efforts to resolve the situation with your ISP. Both the FCC and FTC expect you to try and resolve disputes with your provider first, so taking the time to call your ISP is the first step.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to work things out with your internet provider. If you feel that you’re being treated unfairly, the next step is to escalate your complaint to the FCC or FTC.
Contacting the FCC
You can contact the FCC through an online portal, through its phone line, and with a written letter.
- FCC Complaint Portal
- Federal Communications Commission Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division45 L Street N.E.
Washington, DC 20554
- Make sure to include your name, address, contact information, and as much detail as possible about your complaint if you decide to send a letter.
Contacting the FTC
The FTC is available through an online portal or telephone line.
- FTC Complaint Portal
While the multiple options provide different ways to contact these regulatory bodies, we strongly recommend using the online portal. Using the helpline or coordinating through written correspondence is certainly a viable option, but the online portal guides you through the process of making a complaint step by step.
What Problems Are Out of the FCC’s Jurisdiction?
The FCC does not assist with the issues of false advertising, deceptive business practices, scams, and debt collection. For these issues, you’ll want to contact the Federal Trade Commission.
Additionally, there are a number of services that are best dealt with at the state level using public utility commissions:
- Burial of telephone or cable wires
- Lack of a dial tone for local phone service
- Stand-alone satellite TV billing, rates and programming
- Installation of a non-bundled service
- Stand-alone cable TV service
- Utilities outside of telecommunications
If your issue falls into one of the categories above, find the appropriate state Public Utilities Commission by visiting the website of the National Association Of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. Alternatively, you can receive assistance by phone at (202) 898-2200.
What Is the FCC’s Complaint Process?
Once you’ve determined that the FCC can handle your complaint, it’s time to start filing what’s called an informal complaint.
Informal complaints make up the vast majority of FCC appeals and are the most realistic avenue of receiving assistance with your ISP dispute. While there is technically a formal complaint process as well, it’s an incredibly complicated legal process that’s generally not worth the effort.
In Order to File an FCC Complaint
- Get in touch with the FCC using one of the methods discussed above. We recommend the online portal for the most streamlined process.
- Once your complaint is submitted, your ISP has 30 days in order to respond directly to you while CC’ing the FCC.
- It’s in your best interest to follow up if you haven’t heard from the FCC or ISP. While there’s no formal process by which the FCC will drop your complaint at this step of the appeal, many consumers have reported that their case was closed when they didn’t stay on top of the appeal process.
- When you receive the ISP’s response, you can choose either to accept it or respond directly with a rebuttal. The ISP is then required to respond to your rebuttal.
- Once the FCC is satisfied with the response that you’ve received from the ISP, it will close your case.
How to Argue Your FCC Complaint
While the FCC generally has expedient resolution as a priority, it’s always helpful to have taken a few steps to ensure that you receive as favorable an outcome as possible.
The primary way that you’ll be able to plead your case against your ISP is by having adequate documentation. If your assertions don’t have evidence to back them up, it’s possible that the FCC won’t be able to pressure your ISP to resolve the situation in your favor.
Save a copy of all emails and letters, and consider recording phone calls if that practice is legal within your state. If you’re not able to record your conversations, at least make a note of who you spoke to as well as the time and date in order to reference your communication as easily as possible.
Approaching the situation as professionally as possible will also go a long way. It’s understandable to be upset if you feel that your ISP has wronged you, but approaching everything with a cool head may make both the ISP and FCC more amenable to your complaints.
Last but not least, make sure you’re expediting the process as best as you can. Follow up with the FCC, and if you receive a response from your service provider, ensure that you make your rebuttal as quickly as possible. Letting things drag on can make it more difficult to resolve your case and also forces you to wait longer to get your issue addressed.
Is It Legal for My ISP to Charge an Early Termination Fee?
One of the most common complaints from an ISP’s customers is the charging of an early termination fee. Being charged to change service can certainly put a sour taste in your mouth, but it’s completely legal if you agreed to a contract that included that restriction.
In many cases, ISPs will offer discounted service provided you sign a contract. By ducking out of your contract early, the ISP may lose out on income that it’s entitled to per the terms of your obligation.
Early termination fees are unfortunately a fact of life for many contracts, and the FCC will not intervene in this case if you’ve previously agreed to the provisions.
Can My ISP Deliver Slower Speeds Than Advertised?
In the vast majority of cases, when you sign up for an internet plan, you are promised a connection “up to” the speeds listed. With most of these providers, they’re generally pretty good about providing you with speeds that are at least somewhat close to the speeds that they had advertised. You can expect to be within 10–20% of the maximum advertised speed, once you account for Wi-Fi issues and multiple devices on your network.
However, seeing as that they’ve promised speeds of “up to” the connection listed in your plan, they’re generally not breaking any rules if they provide you with slower speeds.
With that said, the FCC may be able to intervene if you’re receiving speeds that are far lower than what you were expecting for an extended period of time. This is a bit of a gray area, however, and you aren’t guaranteed a positive outcome from filing the complaint.
Very few ISPs will promise specific speeds 100% of the time because they want to avoid liability for changes in the connection. You usually won’t have any recourse unless it’s obviously and extremely separated from the “up to” speeds advertised —and even then it’s a case-by-case situation that isn’t nearly as clear cut as some other issues that fall within the scope of the FCC’s reach.
If you need a plan with close to 100% uptime guaranteed for special circumstances like working from home, it may be possible to get a business internet plan at your address. (Search internet providers using the BroadbandNow zip tool to see options.) Business internet plans come with strong Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that guarantee a certain amount of uptime.
How Did the Repeal of Net Neutrality Affect the FCC Complaint Process?
Net Neutrality was a regulation put in place in order to ensure that internet service providers treat all traffic on the web the same. These rules are the primary reason that ISPs couldn’t create “internet fast lanes” and prioritize specific traffic while slowing down connections that don’t suit their best interests.
Net Neutrality is widely considered to be a valuable set of consumer protections but the FCC voted to abolish the regulations and defer regulation of ISPs to the FTC during the Trump Administration. This meant issues (like throttling or blocking access to specific websites on consumer Internet connections) that were once valid complaints became perfectly legal.
Less regulatory oversight opened up some interesting monetization opportunities for internet providers, some of which probably drove down the cost of services even while upsetting proponents of the open Internet:
- ISPs were able to prioritize certain content and even block access to sites of which they didn’t approve.
- Telecom companies pressured websites for extra payments in order to assure that their customers received fast connection speeds — such as charging Netflix extra for uninterrupted streaming.
- ISPs had a much easier time throttling specific traffic and even potentially breaking the internet into cable style “packages” that limited the sites that customers visited.
Overall, the repeal of Net Neutrality led to a less open internet. Because of these changes, as well as the FCC passing the reins to the FTC for a wide portion of its regulation, the power of these informal complaints diminished. That said, internet users can expect a return of Net Neutrality in 2022.
Other Options to Resolve Disputes With Your ISP
The main recourse for those who feel that their ISP is treating them unfairly or illegally are complaints to the FCC and FTC. If your issue is still not resolved after going through this process, there are few options left aside from switching to another provider (if possible).
However, internet regulation has become a highly politicized issue. By reaching out to politicians that support consumer-centric policy, it’s possible that we can reverse some of the freedom that these companies have to take advantage of their customers. The Biden Administration, for example, is adamant on restoring the FCC’s oversight on broadband and overthrowing the Trump-era FCC’s rules.
Another option is to reach out to your congressperson. If you’re looking for the correct contact information, utilize a site like govtrack for assistance reaching out to your senators and representatives.