Documents Revealed By NHMC’s FOIA Request Show the Importance of the 2015 Open Internet Order and the Need for Strong Net Neutrality Regulations

Consumer Complaints

Carrier Responses

Ombudsperson Emails

Raw Complaint Data

The National Hispanic Media Coalition has publicly released all installments of Federal Communications Commission documents in response to several Freedom of Information Act requests filed in early May. In its initial FOIA request, NHMC requested consumer complaints under the 2015 Open Internet Order, with responses from the ombudsperson and carriers, to shed light on the critical value of the Net Neutrality protections that the FCC is working to dismantle. NHMC has received what the FCC has labeled as its final production on September 14, 2017.

Details within the documents show that the Net Neutrality protections the Commission plans to dismantle have provided effective remedies for consumers. These documents further demonstrate how time and again consumers reached out to the FCC for assistance when they experienced issues such as throttling and blocking, and were unable to resolve those service disruptions through their Internet Service Providers (ISPs) customer service mechanisms. The FCC ombudsperson played a critical role in helping consumers file service complaints and provided support when consumers relied on the FCC as a last resort measure.

The release of these consumer complaints to NHMC also show that the FCC blatantly ignored the evidence that the agency had in its possession as it proposes to scrap the vital consumer protections established by the 2015 Open Internet Order. Now, we can clearly see the effectiveness of Open Internet protections on the books – consumers were able to voice the harms they experienced and seek help in remedying them. The FCC still has a chance to do a proper analysis of the documents, incorporate this evidence into the record, give Public Notice, and initiate a new comment cycle. This is an opportunity for the FCC to prove to the public that they will no longer shirk their responsibility to prevent corporate abuses and keep the open internet open.

What’s at stake? Latinos and other people of color have already face too many hurdles to access the Internet. The FCC can and should do better by the thousands of Internet users that called upon them to hold corporations accountable in addition to the millions who have engaged in and trusted the process for evaluating Net Neutrality protections on their merits.

NHMC Uncovers Critical Evidence in Net Neutrality Proceeding fact sheet.

Relevant Timeline & Documents

April 26, 2017: FCC released draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order.

May 1, 2017: NHMC submitted its first FOIA request for Open Internet consumer complaints, carrier responses, and for ombudsperson documents. NHMC also submitted three additional FOIA requests to capture the full breadth of potential open Internet complaints and related documents. The second request was submitted on May 5, 2017 and the third and fourth on May 17, 2017.

May 18, 2017: FCC voted 2-1 to move forward with the proceeding to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order.

May 23, 2017: Final Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for WC Docket No. 17-108 was released.

June 21, 2017: NHMC received a sample of 1,000 consumer complaints and a few Excel spreadsheets limited to those complaints.

July 7, 2017: NHMC submitted a Motion for Extension of Time arguing that the documents are critical to the Net Neutrality proceeding and must first be released for analysis, and then the Comment deadline should be extended 60 days after the complete production allowing the public adequate time to review and comment. NHMC also raised several potential Administrative Procedure Act violations because the FCC failed to analyze or release evidence it held in its exclusive possession.

July 14, 2017: NHMC received an email from the FCC stating that its original request for the FCC to produce 47,000 consumer complaints and 18,000 carrier responses was overly burdensome. Instead, the FCC made an offer for a sample, stating that NHMC must accept by July 28 or the offer would be declined.

July 17, 2017: Original NPRM Comment deadline. The FCC released an Order denying NHMC’s Motion for Extension of Time at approximately 3:00pm, extending the comment deadline until July 19. In the Order, the FCC once again claimed that the FOIA request is burdensome, and simultaneously confirming that there are over 47,000 Open Internet consumer complaints. The FCC also reiterated its offer made to NHMC to produce an additional 2,000 consumer complaints, 1,500 ombudsperson documents, and Excel spreadsheets with enhanced information for all Open Internet consumer complaints by September 1, 2017.

July 19, 2017: NHMC filed Comments on behalf of the Voices for Internet Freedom Coalition.

July 27, 2017: NHMC sent a letter to FCC partially accepting the offer which emphasized the need for all of the 47,000+ consumer complaints.

August 10, 2017: NHMC wrote to the FCC stating that after multiple attempts to reach the FCC via email and telephone, NHMC had not received any confirmation that documents will be made available on September 1.

August 18, 2017: NHMC received confirmation that the FCC was working to produce all of the documents requested by NHMC.

August 21, 2017: Sixteen public interest groups wrote a letter to the FCC backing NHMC’s FOIA request. “In the interest of proper rulemaking, the FCC should immediately release the over 47,000 consumer complaints and the ombudsperson documents and allow the public sufficient time to review and comment on them,” the groups wrote in the letter. “This would allow the commission and the public the ability to more adequately and fully assess the benefits to consumers and the behavior of ISPs since the 2015 Open Internet Order went into effect.”

Download (PDF, 1.45MB)

August 24, 2017: NHMC received an additional 7,044 pages of consumer complaints, 457 pages of carrier responses, 1,500 ombudsperson emails, and ten Excel spreadsheets.

August 29, 2017: NHMC received an additional 13,311 pages of consumer complaints and 127 pages of carrier responses.

August 30, 2017: NHMC filed Reply Comments on behalf of the Voices for Internet Freedom Coalition.2

September 5, 2017: NHMC received an additional 21,702 pages of consumer complaints and 156 pages of carrier responses.

September 14, 2017: NHMC received what the FCC stated was the final production, including 26,159 pages of consumer complaints and 83 pages of carrier responses.

September 18, 2017: NHMC filed a Joint Motion along with 20 additional organizations, asking the FCC to enter into the record all open internet complaints, ombudsperson correspondence and carrier responses since the 2015 Open Internet Order, and set a comment period to allow for public input on the new evidence.

September 21, 2017: Senator Ed Markey and eight additional Senators, write a letter to Chairman Ajit Pai in support of NHMC’s Motion calling for public review and comment on Open Internet complaints in FCC’s Net Neutrality proceeding.

October 5, 2017: NHMC filed a Joint Reply in response to NCTA and USTelecom’s Opposition along with eight additional organizations. The Joint Reply emphasizes that the Commission itself called the informal consumer complaints and related documents into question, and that our preliminary analysis reveals that these materials are directly relevant to questions raised in the Net Neutrality proceeding. The Joint Reply again requests that the FCC: (1) incorporate the informal consumer complaints and other related documents that were the subject of NHMC’s May 2017 FOIA requests into the record; and (2) set a new pleading cycle for public comment on those documents.

November 14, 2017: NHMC filed an Application for Review (AFR) to the FCC’s Office of the General Counsel seeking review of the FOIA cover letter dated September 14, 2017. In its letter, the FCC stated it was producing its “final production of documents” in response to NHMC’s FOIA requests filed in early May 2017. NHMC’s AFR flagged several sets of documents still missing from those FOIA requests, including 18,000 carrier responses. To read a full list of the missing documents click here.

November 20, 2017: NHMC filed an expert report analyzing the Net Neutrality consumer complaints and related documents received thus far from the FCC. In the report, authored by Reza Rajabiun, a competition policy and telecommunications strategy expert, found that both consumers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) perceive Internet access as a Title II telecommunications service, instead of a Title I information service. The consumer complaints analyzed in the report also captured barriers experienced by consumers that limit their ability to access Internet content and applications. The full report, “Consumer Perspectives on Barriers to Accessing the Open Internet,” can be found here.

December 1, 2017: NHMC hand-delivered a USB flash drive with all FOIA documents, including all Net Neutrality consumer complaints and related documents, such as the Excel spreadsheets and ombudsperson emails to the FCC. In its filing, NHMC requested that the FCC upload all documents to the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS). The FCC also made NHMC’s FOIA documents publicly available on its website back in September, yet has not incorporated this evidence as part of the record.

Additionally, in a second hand-delivered ex parte filing to the FCC, NHMC responded to AT&T’s opposition to NHMC’s Joint Motion filed on September 18, 2017. The FCC provided NHMC with the text of 6,868 consumer complaints against AT&T, and Excel spreadsheets with information for 6,876 consumer complaints against AT&T. To date, NHMC is missing a significant portion of the carrier responses to the consumer complaints, and AT&T is in the best position to explain how the consumer complaints were resolved. NHMC attached those documents to the filing via USB flash drive requesting that the FCC officially incorporate the AT&T consumers complaints as part of the record and upload the documents to ECFS.

December 14, 2017: the FCC holds an open meeting. In a 3-2 party-line vote the FCC adopts the 2017 Restoring Internet Freedom Order and repeals the 2015 Open Internet Order, abolishing Net Neutrality protections for all consumers.

December 21, 2017: NHMC speaks with the FCC’s Office of the General Counsel to discuss missing FOIA documents addressed in NHMC’s Application for Review. NHMC is informed by the FCC that:

  • 21,000 carrier responses were identified by CGB;
  • 13,000 consumer complaints are missing attachments, requiring the FCC to re-process and reproduce those complaints;
  • The FCC does not have an estimate on the number of rebuttals submitted by consumers;
  • CGB does not record the “complaint resolution” data, explaining why that column was blank in all the spreadsheets provided; and
  • The FCC only produced the outgoing ombudsperson emails. The FCC committed to producing “several hundred” documents a month until the production is complete.

January 4, 2018: the FCC releases the Restoring Internet Freedom Order on its website that was adopted during the FCC’s open meeting in December 2017.

January 19, 2018: FCC writes to NHMC to confirm that incoming emails directed to the ombudsperson@fcc.gov, as well as responding emails will be preserved as relevant records. CGB staff plans to start that production, beginning with carrier responses. The productions would continue on a monthly basis starting on March 1, 2018.

February 22, 2018: the FCC officially publishes the Restoring Internet Freedom Order in the Federal Register.

change

February 23, 2018: NHMC files a Petition for Review in the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit challenging the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order.

March 1, 2018: NHMC receives 430 of carrier responses from providers such as Comcast, Charter, and Time Warner Cable. That production is available here.

March 9, 2018: NHMC and other Petitioners are notified that the case has been transferred to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

March 19, 2018: NHMC along with other Petitioners Mozilla Corporation; Coalition for Internet Openness; Etsy; Benton Foundation; Free Press; Vimeo; Public Knowledge; Open Technology Institute; Center for Democracy & Technology; Ad Hoc Telecom Users Committee; NTCH Inc.; the District of Columbia; and the States of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington (“Petitioners”) file a Motion to Transfer the Case to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

March 28, 2018: the Ninth Circuit grants the March 19th Motion to Transfer.

April 2, 2018: the DC Circuit confirms the transfer of the cases from the Ninth Circuit. NHMC’s case is reopened and receives docket No. 18-1056.

April 2, 2018: NHMC received 412 pages of carrier responses from AT&T, Frontier, and CenturyLink. That production is available here.

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