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Slamming: The Unauthorized Change of a Consumer''s Telephone Service Provider

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Publication Date: October 2003

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: IB98027

Topic: Media, telecommunications, and information (Telephone)

Abstract:

Changing a consumer's telephone service provider without his/her knowledge or consent is known as "slamming." This unauthorized change can occur for several reasons ranging from computer or human error to unscrupulous or illegal marketing practices. Regardless of the reason, slamming has a negative impact on both consumers and suppliers of telecommunications services.

Despite existing regulations to prevent such practices and the overall condemnation of such activities, slamming is occurring with increasing frequency. According to data released by the Federal Communications Commission(FCC) 3,216 slamming complaints were filed in the first half of 2003. The issue of slamming is expected to continue as competition in the provision of intrastate long distance and local telecommunications services becomes more widespread.

A significant level of consumer complaints, coupled with the potential for further abuses in an increasingly competitive marketplace, have prompted action to examine and strengthen deterrents to this practice. The FCC has been actively enforcing existing rules and continues to address outstanding slamming issues. The FCC, in a series of rulemakings, adopted rules that strengthen deterrents to slamming in compliance with provisions contained in the 1996 Telecommunications Act (P.L.104-104). All of these rules are now in effect. Under these revised rules, states are given the option of processing slamming complaints, and numerous states have chosen to do so. The telecommunications industry has condemned intentional slamming and is also taking steps to eliminate the practice.

Despite these activities, many members of Congress felt that additional legislation was needed to address this issue. The 105th Congress actively examined this issue, but adjourned without passing legislation. Two measures, S. 58 and S. 1084, introduced in the 106th Congress were not enacted. No legislation addressing slamming was introduced in the 107th Congress and none has been introduced in the 108th Congress, to date.

Although no one supports the practice of intentional slamming, some concerns have been expressed over the approaches being taken to curb this practice. One concern has focused on the necessity for, or specific provisions contained in, legislative measures, with the implementation of primary interexchange (long distance) carrier (PIC) freeze program among the most contentious. The FCC, on March 14, 2002, adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking to examine the charges imposed by local exchange carriers for PIC changes and adopted a further notice relating to thirdparty verifications procedures; action on both rulemakings are still pending. Another concern relevant to the slamming debate, that is the methodology used by the FCC to develop slamming statistics, also generated controversy.

Whether FCC-adopted slamming rules will be a sufficient deterrent to stop the practice of slamming, and negate congressional interest to enact legislation, remains to be seen.