June 4, 1999
Director, Division of Marketing Practices
Federal Trade Commission
Sixth St. and Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Dear Ms. Harrington:
RE: Pay-per-Call Rule
The Electronic Commerce Association (ECA) has the following additional comments for the record on the Pay-per-Call Rulemaking.
Our earlier comments in response to the FTC's October 30, 1998, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking urged the Commission to refrain from taking actions that would have the effect of foreclosing billing options, particularly use of LEC bills. Such limitations would decrease the number of legitimate low-priced information services available to consumers and discriminate against consumers who do not have credit cards or prefer to use other payment procedures.
In light of the information developed at the FTC workshop on May 20th and 21st, the ECA believes that its original position was vindicated. The original rule amending the pay-per-call "900 Number Rule" would severely impair the availability and usefulness of pay-per-call information services. We urge that the following principles guide the staff and Commission members as you consider further action on an amended rule.
Open Billing Platforms. As the information services business evolves and grows, it is critical to ensure that the various billing options are open and usable by consumers. They cannot and should not be encumbered by overly restrictive rules that, in practice, render them all but unusable. It is important to remember that different channels must be available at multiple price points to accommodate the large variety of services that are now available and could become available in the future.
Equity and Consumer Choice. The workshop raised questions about the application of rules to LEC services. Except for basic voice telecommunications services, there is absolutely no justification for treating LECs any differently than competitive information providers. It is widely accepted in the communications sector that service "bundling" confers a key competitive advantage on an offeror. Bundling will become a much more significant public policy issue in the future, and the FTC should not abet the RBOCs' strategy by enabling them to gain an advantage over their competitors through billing.
Technological Neutrality. The pay-per-call amendments were drafted with the telephone industry in mind. Information services can be provided in voice, data, text or other formats. The final rule should not be crafted in such a way as to discourage the emergence of valuable new information services nor that inadvertently affect Internet-based services such as CTI (computer telephone integration) or Internet access.
Policy consistency. Both the FTC and the FCC are examining different aspects of telephone billing. While their jurisdictions and priorities differ, the two agencies' activities may indirectly affect each other's policy-making authority. The ECA recommends that the two agencies coordinate their efforts to ensure that their policies are consistent and complimentary even if the process should consume additional time.
I would also like to place in the record an article that appeared in the June 3, 1999 edition of the Wall Street Journal. The writer notes that the US lags Europeans in the use of telephone-based advanced information services. Such services appear on the telephone bill and refute LEC claims that such charges are "inappropriate" or "unreasonable". While the FTC may not address directly the question of whether the LEC monopolies should be required to open up their bills to competitive service providers, it can and should address the danger of discriminatory treatment of non-LEC information service providers.
E. Wayne Thevenot