Have a complaint about your Internet service provider? The Federal Communications Commission wants to hear it.
More specifically, the agency has appointed staffer Parul P. Desai to the newly created position of ombudsperson. That makes her "the public's primary point of contact within the agency for formal and informal questions and complaints related to the Open Internet rules," the FCC said in a press release.
The job came into being as part of the net neutrality rules that recently went into effect. In her position, Desai gives the public a way to file formal complaints should they suspect their ISP of slowing down their connection or blocking access to certain sites.
Desai, who served in a variety of consumer-advocate positions before joining the FCC, according to ReCode, seems well-suited for the job. She "worked on telecom issues at Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, and Media Access Project, a now-defunct consumer group," the website reported.
However, it remains to be seen how much power Desai will actually have to go after abusers or even investigate allegations. Naming someone to the job is one thing, but successfully pursuing complaints against Comcast(NASDAQ:CMCSA), Time Warner Cable (UNKNOWN:TWC.DL), or the other major ISPs is something else entirely.
Still, though her power remains to be seen, Desai looks like a good pick who will protect consumers.
What does the ombudsperson do?
Housed in the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, where Desai previously served as assistant bureau chief and director of consumer engagement, the ombudsperson fields complaints from the public. Essentially, her role is to make sure the concerns of an individual taxpayer do not get lost in agency bureaucracy.
The FCC further laid out the responsibilities of the ombudsperson in the press release announcing the appointment:
The Open Internet rules, adopted by the Commission on February 26, 2015 and effective as of June 12, 2015, established "an ombudsperson to assist consumers, businesses, and organizations with open Internet complaints and questions by ensuring these parties have effective access to the Commission's processes that protect their interests," and specified that the ombudsperson will be housed in CGB, which is the agency's primary initial informal complaint intake point.
Desai will not be limited to complaints from individual homeowners. She will also "manage questions or complaints regarding the Open Internet to ensure that small and often unrepresented groups reach the appropriate bureaus and offices to address specific issues of concern," the press release said. In the role, it will be her job to handle complaints, but she will not work "as an advocate."
How do you contact the ombudsperson?
While the government has never been all that easy to deal with (just try getting the IRS to answer a question), the FCC is trying to rectify that situation with this announcement.
Desai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 418-1155, or you can file a complaint at consumercomplaints.fcc.gov. On the site, click "File Complaint" under the "Internet" icon, and select "Open Internet" as the issue area. Complaints can also be submitted by phone to the FCC at (888) 225-5322 or even by mail.
Will it work?
Desai seems qualified for the job, and she is here to make sure the ISPs follow the new net neutrality rules. That would suggest that the obmudsperson will, at least for now, have the support of the agency.
Desai does not have an easy road ahead of her. She will almost certainly be buried under a mountain of complaints, not all of which will have merit. Dealing with consumers is a rough role for anyone (just ask any person who works in retail), but Desai does have the background for it.
The creation of the position is a strong push in the right direction, but its success or failure will hinge on how much the FCC empowers Desai when it comes to holding the ISPs accountable.