The Market Disputes Resolution Division (MDRD) mediates and adjudicates complex disputes brought by market participants, entities, or organizations against common carriers (47 U.S.C. § 208),
broadband Internet access providers (47 U.S.C. § 208),
commercial mobile data services providers (47 C.F.R. § 20.12)
or utility pole owners (47 U.S.C. § 224). The disputes concern a wide variety of subjects, including access stimulation, inter-carrier compensation, interconnection/collocation, tariff interpretation, number portability, payphone compensation, Open Internet, data roaming, and pole attachment access and rates.
Individual or business consumers seeking information about informal complaints, including Open Internet informal complaints, should contact the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau. For assistance with disputes against cable operators, contact the Media Bureau.
MDRD offers a number of methods for resolving disputes:
- Confidential staff-supervised mediation (Section 208 and 224 disputes);
- Informal common carrier complaints (Section 208 disputes). Note: Consumer informal complaints against common carriers (including informal complaints filed by most business consumers), as well as all Open Internet informal complaints, should be filed with the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau;
- Formal common carrier complaints (Section 208 disputes);
- Accelerated Docket complaints (certain Section 208 disputes);
- Pole attachment complaints (Section 224 disputes); and,
- Primary Jurisdiction Referrals.
Before instituting formal litigation at the Commission, MDRD strongly encourages parties to attempt to settle or narrow the dispute on an informal basis. To assist the parties, MDRD attorneys are available to conduct voluntary mediations at FCC headquarters in Washington, DC. The goal is to enable the parties to achieve a relatively swift, inexpensive resolution of the dispute. Many cases that would have been adjudicated complaints have been resolved informally without further litigation as a result of staff-supervised mediation.
Parties may initiate confidential mediation prior to filing a formal complaint by submitting a request in writing to the Chief of the Market Disputes Resolution Division, Christopher Killion. The letter should describe the facts, alleged violation(s) of the Act, and the remedy sought, and it should attach relevant documentary evidence. Additionally, a party may include a request for mediation in an informal common carrier complaint (described below). Once MDRD receives a mediation request, it typically will forward the request to the opposing party and request a response. Parties are encouraged to contact Division staff at (202) 418-7330 to obtain information regarding MDRD's mediation program, options for handling an immediate dispute, and possible election of forum concerns.
MDRD handles Section 208 complaints brought by market participants, entities or organizations against common carriers (wireline, wireless or international carriers). Complaints filed by consumers or other businesses against carriers are handled by the Consumer Governmental Affairs Bureau or 1-888-225-5322. Section 208 complaints may be filed using the informal or formal complaint process or, in certain instances, the Accelerated Docket, as described below.
The informal common carrier complaint process enables complainants to resolve disputes without the time and expense associated with formal complaint adjudication. In addition, filing an informal complaint will toll the statute of limitations pending efforts to reach a negotiated settlement under the 6-month formal complaint conversion option discussed below.
To file an informal common carrier complaint, the complaining party need only submit a letter to the Chief of the Market Disputes Resolution Division, Christopher Killion, 445 12th Street SW, Washington DC 20554, describing the alleged violation of the Communications Act. There is no fee associated with filing an informal complaint. The letter must include the name of the defendant carrier, a complete statement of the facts, and the relief sought. In addition, the complainant may request mediation in the informal complaint letter. Refer to Sections 1.716-1.718 of the Commission's rules (47 C.F.R. §§ 1.716-1.718) for details about filing an informal complaint. Consumer informal complaints against common carriers (including informal complaints filed by most business consumers), as well as all Open Internet informal complaints, should be filed with the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau.
Once MDRD receives an informal complaint, it will transmit the complaint to the defendant carrier and typically will require the defendant to submit a response within thirty days. Even before the response deadline, parties can explore the possibility of private settlement or engage in FCC-supervised mediation. A complainant that is not satisfied with the defendant's response, and has not been able to resolve the dispute through private settlement or subsequent mediation, has six months from the date of the response to convert the informal complaint into a formal complaint and maintain the filing date of the informal complaint. See 47 C.F.R. § 1.718. Informal complaints do not result in written orders issued by the Commission.
Prospective complainants should be aware that some courts have construed the filing of an informal complaint to be an election of forum that may affect subsequent litigation options. See 47 U.S.C. § 207. We suggest contacting MDRD staff prior to filing any informal complaint or mediation request.
Unlike informal complaints, formal complaints are subject to detailed procedural rules and filing requirements. The formal complaint process is similar to federal court litigation, in that it involves a complaint, answer, and reply, and often discovery, motions and briefs. The Commission's rules require more detailed submissions than the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, however, so complainants in formal section 208 complaints must provide specific facts and proof regarding all claims in the complaint itself. Moreover, discovery is usually not as expansive as in federal court. Consequently, a formal complaint must contain as much factual support as possible at the filing stage. This can be in the form of sworn affidavits and documentary evidence. Because briefing is discretionary and may not be permitted in a particular case, parties must provide well-reasoned legal arguments in their initial pleadings. Formal complaint proceedings result in a written order issued by the Bureau or the full Commission.
Before filing a Section 208 formal complaint, carefully review the applicable procedural rules. Sections 1.720-1.736 of the Commission's rules (47 C.F.R. §§ 1.720-1.736) govern most section 208 formal complaints, as well as data roaming complaints. A separate set of rules govern Open Internet formal complaints, however, and can be found at 47 C.F.R. §§ 8.12-8.16. Prospective litigants also should review the FCC's Reports and Orders adopting these rules, which appear in the FCC Record. See Implementation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Amendment of Rules Governing Procedures to Be Followed when Formal Complaints Are Filed Against Common Carriers, Report and Order, 12 FCC Rcd 22497 (1997), Order on Reconsideration, 16 FCC Rcd 5681 (2001); Preserving the Open Internet Broadband Industry Practices, Report and Order, 25 FCC Rcd 17905, 17987-89, paras. 154-59 (2010); Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet, Report and Order on Remand, Declaratory Ruling, and Order, 30 FCC Rcd 5601, paras. 257-66 (2015).
Note that a filing fee is required for all formal complaints. See 47 C.F.R. § 1.1106. It is important to review the most recent version of the rules pertaining to filing a formal complaint, particularly those relating to the filing fee. For up-to-date information about filing fees, contact the FCC's Helpline at 1-888-225-5322, and for any questions regarding filing procedures, contact MDRD staff at 202-418-7330. Failure to comply with any of these rules can result in the dismissal of a complaint.
In most cases, parties to formal complaints should be represented by attorneys familiar with FCC procedures. Before filing a formal complaint, contact MDRD staff to discuss the issues in dispute and explore the possibility of resolution through pre-complaint mediation supervised by Commission staff.
In select circumstances, MDRD resolves section 208 formal complaints on an expedited schedule called the "Accelerated Docket." It is designed to lead to a written staff-level decision within 60 days from the filing of the complaint. Because the Accelerated Docket rules require staff-supervised pre-filing settlement negotiations, disputes are often settled without the need to file a formal complaint. For this reason, MDRD encourages parties to consider filing a request for a pre-complaint mediation prior to seeking acceptance onto the Accelerated Docket (see above), by emailing the Chief of the Market Disputes Resolution Division, Christopher Killion.
Requests to have potential complaints considered for acceptance onto the Accelerated Docket must be made in writing and submitted to MDRD prior to filing a formal complaint. Please contact MDRD staff to discuss the process beforehand. It is important to understand that few cases are suitable for this expedited procedure. The staff, in its discretion, decides which Section 208 cases to accept on the Accelerated Docket. Matters that are not accepted on the Accelerated Docket may nevertheless be filed under the formal complaint rules described above (47 C.F.R. §§ 1.721-1.736) or scheduled for pre-complaint mediation as also described above. For further information about the Accelerated Docket, refer to section 1.730 of the Commission's rules (47 C.F.R. § 1.730) and the Commission's related Order. See Implementation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Amendment of Rules Governing Procedures to Be Followed when Formal Complaints Are Filed Against Common Carriers, Second Report and Order, 13 FCC Rcd 17018 (1998).
Section 224 of the Communications Act authorizes the Commission to regulate attachments by cable television systems or providers of telecommunications service to utility poles, ducts, conduits, and rights-of-way. Under Section 224, the Commission has a duty to ensure that the rates, terms, and conditions for attachments are just and reasonable, and that cable television systems and telecommunications carriers have non-discriminatory access to utility poles, ducts, conduits, and rights-of-way.
Section 1.1404(c) of the Commission's rules (47 C.F.R. § 1.1404(c)) provides that complaints alleging that a rate, term, or condition for attachment is unjust or unreasonable must contain a statement that the State has not certified that it regulates the rates, terms and conditions for pole attachments. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have certified that they regulate pole attachments. See States That Have Certified That They Regulate Pole Attachments, Public Notice DA 10-893, WC Docket No. 10-101.
Prior to filing a complaint alleging a violation of Section 224, a prospective complainant should contact MDRD staff to discuss the issues in dispute and to explore the possibilities for resolution through pre-complaint mediation before Commission staff (described above). In the event a dispute cannot be resolved informally, a prospective complainant should review thoroughly the Commission's rules governing pole attachment complaints before instituting litigation at the Commission. See 47 C.F.R. §§ 1.1401-1.1408.
A court invokes the primary jurisdiction doctrine when it has jurisdiction over a case, but the case requires the resolution of issues which, under a regulatory scheme, have been placed in the hands of an administrative agency. See, e.g., Allnet Communication Service, Inc. v. National Exchange Carrier Association, Inc., 965 F.2d 1118 (D.C. Cir. 1992). The Commission has released a Public Notice providing guidance concerning primary jurisdiction referrals. See Primary Jurisdiction Referrals Involving Claims under the Communications Act, Public Notice, 29 FCC Rcd 738 (2014). Any party involved in a dispute against a common carrier that has been referred to the Commission should review the Public Notice and contact MDRD at 202-418-7330 before filing any papers with the Commission.
- Pending Section 208 Formal Complaints and Section 224 Pole Attachment Complaints
- Released Items Concerning Section 208 Formal Complaints and Section 224 Pole Attachment Complaints
- Carriers' D.C. Designated Agent for Service of Process
- Rosemary McEnery, Acting Chief
- Lisa Griffin, Deputy Chief
People with Disabilities: To request materials in accessible formats for people with disabilities (braille, large print, electronic files, audio format), send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau at 202-418-0530 (voice), 202-418-0432 (TTY).