The Market Disputes Resolution Division ("MDRD") is responsible for resolving complaints filed pursuant to Section 208 of the Communications Act. The Division mediates and adjudicates disputes brought by market participants, entities or organizations against common carriers (wireline, wireless or international carriers). The Division also resolves complaints, via mediation or adjudication, filed by cable operators, telecommunications carriers, and other parties against pole owners pursuant to Section 224 of the Communications Act. For information regarding consumer disputes against carriers, contact the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau. For assistance with disputes involving cable operators, contact the Media Bureau.
Dispute Resolution Options
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);
- Formal common carrier complaints (Section 208 disputes);
- Pole Attachment complaints (Section 224 disputes);
- Primary Jurisdiction Referrals.
Each process is discussed briefly below. Before initiating any proceedings, however, we urge parties to contact MDRD staff at (202) 418-7330 or EBMDRD.Divison@fcc.gov in order to discuss the available procedural options.
By engaging in voluntary mediation, parties are able to focus on a mutually-satisfactory solution to the dispute and avoid costly and time-consuming litigation. Many cases have been resolved informally without further litigation as a result of the mediation efforts of MDRD staff.
Before filing a formal Section 208 complaint or a Section 224 pole attachment complaint, the Division 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 a mediation session at FCC headquarters in Washington, D.C. The goal is to enable the parties to achieve a relatively swift, inexpensive resolution of the dispute.
Parties may initiate mediation by submitting a request in writing to the Market Disputes Resolution Division, EBMDRD.Divison@fcc.gov. The letter should describe the facts, alleged violation(s) of the Communications Act, and remedy sought. Additionally, a party may include a request for mediation in an informal common carrier complaint (described below). Parties may contact Division staff at (202) 418-7330 or EBMDRD.Divison@fcc.gov to obtain information regarding MDRD's mediation program.
Section 208: Common Carrier Complaints
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.
The informal 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 statue of limitations pending efforts to reach a negotiated settlement.
To file an informal complaint, the complaining party need only submit a letter to the Market Disputes Resolution Division, EBMDRD.Divison@fcc.gov, describing the alleged (s) 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 Rules (47 C.F.R. §§ 1.716 - §§ 1.718) for specific details about filing an informal complaint.
Once an informal complaint is received, the Division transmits it to the defendant carrier, and typically requires the defendant to submit a response within thirty days. Even before the response deadline, parties are encouraged to explore the possibility of private settlement or to engage in FCC supervised mediation. If the informal complainant is not satisfied with the defendant's response, and has not been able to resolve the dispute through private settlement or mediation, the complainant has six months from the date of the defendant's response to convert the informal complaint into a formal complaint and maintain the filing date of the informal complaint. See Section 1.718 of the Rules (47 C.F.R. § 1.718). Informal complaints do not result in written orders issued by the Commission.
Unlike informal complaints, formal complaints involve detailed procedural rules and filing requirements. The formal complaint process is similar to federal court litigation, in that it involves a complaint, answer, reply, motions, briefs and discovery. Unlike federal court litigation, however, complainants in formal Section 208 complaints are required to provide detailed facts and proof regarding all claims in the complaint itself, and discovery is usually not as expansive. Consequently, a formal complaint must contain as much factual support as possible at the filing stage. This can be in the form of sworn affidavit, and documentary evidence. Formal complaint proceedings are resolved by a written order issued by the Bureau or the full Commission. Recent Section 208 formal complaint orders and Section 224 pole attachments may be found at https://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/eb-pending-formal-and-pole-action-complaints.
Before filing a formal complaint, carefully review the applicable procedural rules, which are found at 47 C.F.R. § § 1.720 - 1.740. See Amendment of Procedural Rules Governing Formal Complaint Proceedings Delegated to the Enforcement Bureau, Report and Order, 33 FCC Rcd 7178 (2018). Additional information can be found in the FCC's Report and Order adopting these rules, (FCC Rcd 22497 (1997)) and the Order on Reconsideration in that proceeding, (16 FCC Rcd 5681 (2001)).
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 current 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 or EBMDRD.Divison@fcc.gov. Failure to comply with any of these rules can result in the dismissal of a complaint.
We strongly encourage parties to formal complaints to be represented by counsel familiar with FCC procedures. Before filing a formal complaint, please contact MDRD staff to discuss the issues in dispute and explore the possibilities for resolution through pre-complaint mediation supervised by MDRD staff.
Section 224 Complaints: Pole Attachments
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.
The Commission has issued rules governing complaints alleging a violation of section 224 of the Communications Act. See 47 C.F.R. § § 1.1401 - 1.1407. Before filing a Section 224 complaint, a party should thoroughly review the procedural requirements in 47 C.F.R. § § 1.1401 - 1.1407. Recent Section 224 complaint orders may be found at https://www.fcc.gov/eb/mdrd/224Items.html.
State Certification: 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 (2010).
Prior to filing a pole attachment complaint, complainants should contact MDRD staff to discuss the issues in dispute and to explore the possibilities for resolution through pre-complaint mediation before Commission staff.
Primary Jurisdiction Referrals
Any party involved in a dispute against a common carrier that has been referred to the Commission by a court pursuant to the doctrine of primary jurisdiction is strongly encouraged, before filing any papers with the Commission, to carefully review the Commission's Public Notice: Primary Jurisdiction Referrals Involving Claims Under the Communication Act, Public Notice, 29 FCC Rcd 738 (2014), and to contact the Division at EBMDRD.Divison@fcc.gov.
Items of Interest
- Pending Section 208 Formal Complaints
- Pending Section 224 Pole Attachment Complaints
- Released Items Concerning Section 208 Market Formal Complaints
- Carriers' D.C. Designated Agent for Service of Process
Rosemary McEnery, Chief
Lisa Griffin, Deputy Chief
Lisa Saks, Assistant Chief