Parul Desai has been the FCC's director of consumer engagement for the past eight months, and before that she worked in the FCC's media bureau for two years.
In her new role, she will have two basic duties: first, to help Joe Sixpack and businesses navigate the FCC's complaints process; and second, to carry out investigations and analyses of both open internet complaints and the broader market and report to the commission on her findings. She won't be allowed to act as an advocate, or an officer of the FCC with a right of approval.
Desai will stay in her existing department – the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau – and coordinate with the FCC's other bureaus to make sure complaints about broadband services are properly investigated.
While the role is vital if the FCC is to be effective in its new role of regulating internet access in America, it is not without controversy. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has traditionally been the place to go for consumer complaints, and the FCC has no real experience in this area. The FTC is apparently not happy.
Prior to joining the FCC in 2012, Desai was a lawyer at the Consumers Union, and before that a veep at the Media Access Project which specializes in defending First Amendment rights.
As to what kinds of complaints the ombudsperson will deal with: the FCC outlines the "open internet" structure as: "Broadband service providers cannot block or deliberately slow speeds for Internet services or apps, create special 'fast lanes' for content, or engage in other practices that harm Internet openness."
So if you feel your broadband provider is blocking access to particular websites or applications, throttling your traffic or prioritizing traffic from specific sources, or if you feel they are more generally up to no good, then you can head over to the ombudsperson to find out how and where to complain. Hint: go to consumercomplaints.fcc.gov.
What may be more interesting, however, is that broadband providers are also required to provide "sufficient information" about speed, price, and network management to enable citizens to make an informed choice. Cable companies are notorious for playing fast and loose with prices and speeds to get as much out of consumers as they can – something that has contributed to them being the most disliked and complained-about companies in the United States today.
If Desai decides to take on that issue as part of her role, she has her work cut out for her. The FCC declined our request to interview Desai. If you managed to get hold of her for whatever reason, congratulations. ®