Telecommunications:

Telephone Slamming and Its Harmful Effects

OSI-98-10: Published: Apr 21, 1998. Publicly Released: Apr 23, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on: (1) which entities or companies engage in telephone slamming violations; (2) the process by which the providers defraud consumers; and (3) what the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), state regulatory entities, and the telecommunications industry has done to curtail slamming.

GAO noted that: (1) all three types of long-distance providers--facility-based carriers, which have extensive physical equipment, switching resellers, which have one or more switching stations, and switchless resellers, having the least to lose and the most to gain, most frequently engage in intentional slamming, according to the FCC, state regulatory agencies, and the telecommunications industry; (2) intentional slamming is accomplished by deceptive practices; (3) these include falsifying documents that authorize a switch and misleading customers into signing such a document; (4) the FCC, state regulatory agencies, and the telecommunications industry rely on the others to be the main forces against intentional slamming; (5) however, with regard to the FCC, its antislamming measures effectively do little to protect consumers from slamming; (6) although representatives of state regulatory agencies and the industry view a provider's FCC tariff--a schedule of services, rates, and charges--as a key credential, the FCC places no significance on the tariffs that long-distance providers are required to file with it before providing service; (7) although the FCC in 1996 attempted to regulate tariffs out of existence, a circuit court stayed that FCC regulation in 1997 as a result of a lawsuit; (8) the FCC now accepts tariffs; however, it does not review the tariff information; (9) thus, having a tariff on file with the FCC is no guarantee of a long-distance provider's integrity or of FCC's ability to penalize a provider that slams consumers; (10) as part of GAO's investigation and using fictitious information, GAO easily filed a tariff with the FCC and could now, as a switchless reseller, slam consumers with little chance of being caught; (11) state regulatory measures that could preclude slamming range from none in a few states to extensive in others; (12) industry's antislamming measures appear to be more market-driven; and (13) however, a Primary Interexchange Carriers freeze--an action that consumers can take by contacting their local exchange carrier and freezing their choice of Primary Interexchange Carriers, or long distance providers--effectively reduces the chance of intentional slamming.

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