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FCC Adopts Controversial Rules on Handling Consumer Complaints

UPDATE 7/12: In a last-minute decision, the FCC approved a rule change that critics claim will force consumers to pay £225 for their complaints to be heard. The FCC was initially expected to drop amendments to how it handles consumer complaints, but on Thursday, the agency voted 3-1 to adopt the original proposal. “This is bonkers.

No one should be asked to pay £225 for this agency to do its job,” said Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, the lone dissenting vote. Rosenworcel noted[1] that each month the agency receives 25,000 to 30,000 informal complaints, which can be filed for free. But language in the new rules will reduce the FCC’s role to merely forwarding the complaints to the affected carriers.

“Consumers who remain unsatisfied will be asked to pay a £225 fee to file a formal complaint just to have the FCC take an interest,” she said in a statement to PCMag. However, the FCC maintains that nothing has changed to how it will handle informal complaints. The agency’s chief of staff tweeted[2] that whole controversy amounts to “fake news.”

“There is no change, no proposal or no rule to ‘eliminate the agency’s traditional and important role of helping consumers in the informal complaint process,'” an FCC spokesman told PCMag. “These updates will simplify and expedite the process for handling formal complaints that will both serve the public better and make more efficient use of staff resources,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wrote in prepared remarks[3]. Original story:As the rules currently stand, filing a consumer complaint[4] with the FCC sees them assess and handle that complaint on your behalf.

If it’s a valid complaint, an FCC consumer representative may contact you for further information then serve your complaint and require a written response within 30 days from the company. There is no charge, but that could be about to change. As Engadget[5] reports, tomorrow the FCC is set to look at its complaint-handling procedure and possibly alter it slightly.

It could mean the rules change and your consumer complaint is only forwarded to the relevant provider who is then left to decide what to do without further intervention. The part where the FCC assesses your complaint, asks for more info, and demands a written response would be gone. Unless, of course, you pay.

If the rule change happens, getting the FCC to go through the same steps as it does today will require filing a formal complaint, which costs £225. That’s according to the Democrats, and in particular House Energy & Commerce Committee Reps. Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, who sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai expressing their concerns.

As CNET[6] reports, the FCC refutes the claims being made, stating “The item would not change the Commission’s handling of informal complaints … The Democrats’ letter is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the draft order.” If Pallone and Doyle are correct, the rule change could certainly save the FCC a lot of money, but it would also raise new money due to a natural increase in expensive formal complaints by consumers who feel let down enough by a company to spend £225 getting the FCC involved.

Now we just have to wait and see what happens tomorrow. The Democratic lawmakers are specifically concerned about this language in the proposed[7] rule change: “In all other cases, the Commission will notify the complainant that if the complainant is not satisfied by the carrier’s response, or if the carrier has failed to submit a response by the due date, the complainant may file a formal complaint in accordance with ?

1.721 of this part.” In contrast, the existing rule[8] says this: “In all other cases, the Commission will contact the complainant regarding its review and disposition of the matters raised.

If the complainant is not satisfied by the carrier’s response and the Commission’s disposition, it may file a formal complaint in accordance with ?

1.721 of this part.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more details about the rule change.

References

  1. ^ noted (docs.fcc.gov)
  2. ^ tweeted (twitter.com)
  3. ^ prepared remarks (docs.fcc.gov)
  4. ^ consumer complaint (consumercomplaints.fcc.gov)
  5. ^ Engadget (www.engadget.com)
  6. ^ CNET (www.cnet.com)
  7. ^ proposed (docs.fcc.gov)
  8. ^ rule (www.law.cornell.edu)

Study claims Airbnb is great for your neighborhood’s economy, if it’s predominantly white

Airbnb guests staying in predominantly white neighborhoods are more likely to shop around at local businesses like restaurants than guests staying in neighborhoods that are mostly black or Hispanic, according to a new study from researchers at Purdue University.

People who use the home-renting platform to stay in a big city, like New York, for example, tend to eat at local neighborhood restaurants close to where they’re staying. But this effect doesn’t hold true when more than half of a neighborhood’s residents were black or Hispanic, according to the study’s authors.

“Airbnb has made repeated claims that it helps the local economy in black neighborhoods, especially in New York City,” said Mohammad Rahman, a Purdue University professor and co-author of the study, in a statement given to The Washington Post.

His team pulled data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census, and Airbnb for 42 neighborhoods across New York City — the most visited and active Airbnb city in the US — along with 10 years’ worth of Yelp reviews for 34,000 of the city’s restaurants. The goal was to see how trends in home sharing stacked against trends with local restaurant employment.

They found that the promised economic spillover didn’t hold up across racial lines.

Neighborhoods with a booming population of Airbnb guests typically did see a growth in people working for local restaurants, along with a surge in the share of Yelp reviews, which was a measure the researchers used to reconfirm their employment findings. But these findings didn’t carry over into the neighborhoods that were predominantly populated by people of color, even if Airbnb rental numbers were just as high.

The reason, as Rahman told The Washington Post, might be because an “uncomfortable reality” is that some visitors might be less inclined to walk around and check out the local businesses in these neighborhoods, even though they might be drawn to how affordable the housing is. Instead, Rahman added, they might just use the Airbnb as a place to sleep at the end of the day, while ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft allow them at travel to other neighborhoods and avoid exploring the one in which they’re staying.

Though this first study was done only in New York, they subsequently expanded it and found similar patterns in Austin, Chicago, Portland, and San Francisco.

These findings undermine Airbnb’s long-standing reputation as a platform that gives an economic boost to local communities. According to the website, Airbnb guests “stay longer and spend more” in the “diverse” neighborhoods they visit, more than twice as much as a typical visitor. The company also claims that its NYC-based guests spend more than 30 percent of their money in the neighborhoods they stay in, and 95 percent of their hosts recommend local businesses.

This study (which is still a working paper) is far from definitive.

There are other factors aside from proximity that influence what restaurant a person decides to visit, like the type of cuisine a person is in the mood for or what they might be accustomed to in their home city, state, or country. And even though Rahman used Yelp reviews to back up existing government data, the reviews are still limited. Not everyone who visits a restaurant leaves a Yelp review, and the study even pointed out that just eight neighborhoods of the 42 sampled counted for the overwhelming majority of the Yelp visitor reviews in 2015.

Cutting the study off at 2015 is another point of contention the company has with the findings.

Airbnb’s seen swaths of new users across Queens and the Bronx over the past three years, it says.

It has also taken steps to foster relationships with local businesses, including a recent partnership with the Queens Chamber of Commerce that brought out hosts from the Jamaica area to meet with owners of neighboring shops and restaurants.

“Airbnb undoubtedly boosts local businesses — Airbnb generated £2.8 billion in economic activity in New York City in 2016”, said company representative Nick Papas in a statement. “But using a subjective and voluntary input like Yelp reviews to draw conclusions in what purports to be a rigorous analysis is wrong.” As a result, he said, the study is “deeply flawed.”

Star Wars: Episode IX reportedly casts Keri Russell in an ‘action-heavy’ role

Lucasfilm has kept things pretty quiet when it comes to J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode IX, but Variety is now reporting that the director has cast Keri Russell in the upcoming film. The character she’ll be playing isn’t named, but according to the report it calls for “action-heavy fight scenes.”

Russell first came to national attention as the star of Felicity back in 1998.

That show, which was created by Abrams and Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), featured Russell as the titular young woman who upends her life by deciding to go to college in New York, rather than California, to pursue a potential relationship. More recently, she has earned acclaim for her intense performance on The Americans, which just ended its six-season run. That show featured Russell as Elizabeth Jennings, one-half of a married couple who are actually Soviet spies living (and killing) undercover in Cold War America.

The Star Wars franchise itself has been dealing with some recent turbulence.

The standalone film Solo: A Star Wars Story vastly underperformed other entries in the series, which reportedly caused Lucasfilm to halt development of the other standalone movies on its slate. Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, on the other hand, excelled at the box-office — though it has proven to be a lightning rod for a certain subset of the fanbase that has such a problem with diversity and representative casting that it’s actually driven cast members off of social media with constant bullying and online harassment.

Episode IX, however, isn’t scheduled for release until December 20th, 2019. That gives a fanbase that may have started to fatigue of the films time to breathe, and also offers an opportunity for the ugliness of the past few months to fade from memory.

Those that are fans of screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan’s contributions to the series — he co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back and The Force Awakens, amongst others — also have reason to celebrate.

According to Variety, while Abrams is officially writing Episode IX solo, he has spent much of his time since accepting the gig working on the new script with Kasdan.

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