FCC Seeks Comments on Proposal on Extending Truth-in-Billing Regulations to Two-Way and One-Way Interconnected VoIP Service Providers

On December 13, 2019, the FCC published a Public Notice seeking comments on whether its “Truth-in-Billing” regulations should be extended to providers of Interconnected VoIP services.  In the notice, the FCC made clear that it is contemplating the application of these rules to both Two-Way Interconnected VoIP and One-Way Interconnected VoIP (i.e., both inbound & outbound AND outbound only/inbound only, provided the service connects to the public switched telephone network).   

The FCC’s Truth-in-Billing rules govern the manner in which charges and fees are represented on the bills sent to customers (whether paper or electronic) for the purpose of aiding the consumer’s decision making and preventing billing confusion or billing-related complaints. The telecommunications industry has undergone drastic changes since 2004-2005, most notably in the rise of Interconnected Voice over IP services (“I-VoIP”) which have grown to represent a significant share of the market since the rules were first adopted.  Seeking to “refresh the record,” the FCC has requested comments from the public regarding the future of Truth-in-Billing focused on four major areas.

  1. Should the FCC expand Truth-in-Billing rules, which currently only apply to providers of wireless and wireline telecommunications services, to cover I-VoIP providers?  Would such rules lead to clearer and less confusing invoices, giving I-VoIP customers the same ability to make informed subscription decisions?  What modifications would be necessary in order to apply the rules to Internet-based telecommunications in the first place?
  2. Should all telecommunications providers be required to separate government-mandated fees from company-determined fees (non-discretionary vs. discretionary surcharges) as line items on the customer’s bill?  Does this system provide good outcomes when applied in the I-VoIP context?  The Commission is open to reviewing the benefits of existing and potentially outdated Truth-in-Billing rules generally and seeks information on specific benefits from commenters asking rules to be deleted.
  3. Mandating broad use of government line-item disclosure requires defining government and non-governmental expenses. Currently, payments that providers collect and remit directly to the government are considered government billing, while fees which providers collect in order to fund compliance activities are not. Does this division make sense considering the current telecommunications business landscape? Would companies benefit from an expanded or narrower definition of government expense?
  4. What authority does the FCC have to extend Truth-in-Billing to One-Way and Two-Way I-VoIP?  Is existing statute sufficient or would additional Congressional or regulatory action be necessary?

If the Commission proceeds with the adoption of rules extending Truth-in-Billing regulations to I-VoIP service providers, the result would likely be increased costs and compliance burdens for the industry segment.  The extension of the rules would be particularly impactful on companies that are not, generally, adhering to the principles set forth in the rules, which could force such providers to re-assess their current invoice structure, contents, and customer disclosures and evaluate whether their billing platform or vendor is capable of adapting to the changes required by the rules. 

Comments are due 30 days after publication of the Public Notice in the Federal Register.  If your company is likely to be impacted by the proposed changes in Truth-in-Billing rules and you would like to present arguments to counteract the FCC’s efforts to extend yet another Title II “common carrier” regulation to I-VoIP service providers, please contact Jonathan S. Marashlian at jsm@commlawgroup.com or 703-714-1313.

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