Complaining is an art form.
On the one hand, you have people who channel their rage into screaming at call center employees and writing all-caps emails.
On the other, you have people who are too scared of offending anyone to call or write in the first place.
Effectively complaining about your Internet Service is particularly challenging, and none of these people will succeed. Only those who can channel their rage into constructive complaints will actually get what they want.
It’s not about Jedi mind tricks — it’s about being polite, insistent, and clever as you navigate the obstacle course of call centers and government forms that lies between you and the fast, functional Internet connection you deserve.
Our goal in writing this article is to give you the tools and knowledge you need to complain artfully, so you can stand a chance of getting what you want from your Internet Service Provider.
Quick Tip: Cable TV ComplaintsPlease note that Cable TV complaints should be directed to your local Cable Commission, which you should be able to find on your city website or through a Google search.
Common ISP problems
Here’s a quick rundown on the most common problems consumers have when it comes to Internet and cable:
Failure to Deliver Speed AdvertisedIt’s important to understand that Internet providers are not required to deliver the exact speed advertised. If you look at the fine print, you’ll notice that speed are advertised with “speeds up to…”
This isn’t the same as promising you, say, 150 Mbps.
The reason for this is that even the best networks are prone to technical issues, not to mention that most customers will use their Internet over Wi-Fi, which is generally slower that plugging a single computer directly into your Internet connection.
Billing IssuesInternet providers have been attempting to fight back against their bad reputations by improving billing practices, but Consumer Reports still suggest that it is common for bills to come with mistakes, hidden fees, unexplained hikes, and other issues.
Uncommon ISP problems
Service Terminated UnfairlyIn some cases, especially DSL networks with too many subscribers on outdated copper wiring, internet providers will deny service to former customers. Regardless of the motivation for doing so, providers are often held to local franchise agreements with local governments that require them to serve a certain portion of the population, if only with basic services like landline phone.
Local franchise information should be available through your local city level Government website. If you believe the provider is required to serve you and they are failing to do so, this would be justifiable reason for filing an informal or formal complaint.
Content Blocking or ThrottlingBlocking or throttling traffic is a tricky subject, and loosened regulation under the Trump administration will likely make this a difficult charge to fight. However, if you are able to show that a particular service is being blocked or throttled, it’s worth reporting. Just don’t expect a resolution in your favor in the short-term.
Contracts not honoredMergers between large Internet providers are common, and customers don’t always get the best end of the bargain. Keep in mind that providers are not usually required to honor the pricing or speed you received with the old company once your contract runs out. This can be frustrating for consumers who are accustomed to negotiating lower pricing with their ISP, only to have that ISP be taken over by one that does not negotiate.
Privacy violationsInternet providers have been caught using private leased Wi-Fi routers to power public Wi-Fi networks in the past. The quickest fix for this privacy issue is to simply purchase and use your own modem and router when you sign up for service.
Step-by-step guide to Internet Service complaints
From slow speeds to billing errors to service throttling, complaint-worthy service issues have been a feature of home Internet service from day one. Some of these issues are more serious than others, but the process for escalating a complaint is relatively uniform:
- Step 1: Document everything
- Step 2: File complaints with your ISP
- Step 3: If no resolution, inform ISP of intent to escalate issue
- Step 4: Determine if your issue qualifies for an FCC, FTC, or Franchise Authority complaint
- Step 5: File informal complaints
- Step 6: Follow up on your case with the FCC and/or FTC via email
- Step 7: File a formal complaint
Let’s walk through these step-by-step to show how these steps apply to your specific situation.
1. Document everything
Regardless of your issue, it’s critical that you start documenting the problem as soon as it occurs. If the problem is reduced speeds, run regular speed tests and record the results with timestamped screenshot. If the problem is faulty billing, scan copies of your bills and keep them on file.
Finally, keep in mind that the practice of recording customer service calls is legally iffy. The legality of doing so varies from state to state, so consult your state laws before attempting to record any conversations. To date, no major company has sued a customer for taping calls and using them against the company — but they could in the future.
2. File complaints with your ISP
The first step for resolving any connectivity issue should be to work directly with your ISP. Inform them of problems early and often, and do your part to make it easy for customer service and tech support to do their jobs.
Keep in mind that some company representatives will be better-trained than others. It’s worth trying to resolve a problem more than once with different reps or technicians.
Technical support — even for problems you didn’t create — can be expensive. If you’re promised free support, be absolutely sure that the promise is sufficiently documented so that they can’t back out on it.
Enter your address to see if you have another provider available
3. If the ISP is unable to reach a resolution, inform them of your intention to escalate the issue
If working directly with the provider doesn’t solve your problem, call and inform them that you intend to file a complaint with the FCC, FTC, or local offices with jurisdiction over your problem such as a cable franchise authority.
Here’s a diplomatic way to word it:
I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to solve this problem. I’ve researched this issue on the FCC’s website, and my conclusion is that I can file a complaint with several government offices to investigate wether or not this issue qualifies me for consumer protection actions. Is there anything else you can do to help me solve this issue before I file complaints?
4. Determine if your issue merits an FCC/FTC complaint filing
FCC (Federal Communication Commission) complaints:
- Net Neutrality complaints.
- Internet billing issues.
- Internet privacy violations.
- Failure to provide the speeds paid for.
- Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints.
- Home wiring and technician installation issues.
- Commercial content, children’s content, and general obscenity complaints.
- Indecency and obscenity.
FTC (Federal Trade Commission) complaints:
- Provider fraud.
- Provider theft.
- Unfair business practices.
Local Franchise Authority complaints:
- Monthly rate complaints for “basic service,” the lowest level of cable service a company offers.
- Cable customer service problems, billing disputes, and staff/technician complaints.
- Franchise fee complaints.
- Service quality complaints. (spotty reception, etc.)
- Complaints related to content or availability of PEG channels (Public, Educational, Government).
Public Service Commission complaints:
- Local telephone service issues
- Directory assistance
5. File informal complaints
Once you’ve determined which umbrella your issue falls under, the next step is to file your complaint(s).
How to file complaints with the FCC
Call the FCC Complaint Line: 1–888–225–5322
Contact Ajit Pai, the FCC Chairman, directly: Ajit.Pai@fcc.gov
Write an honest, personalized letter and mail it to:
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554
How to file complaints with the FTC
The FTC’s “file a complaint” page is fairly self-explanatory: https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/
How to File with local authorities
The process for filing issues with your local Cable Franchise Authorities and other local government regulators varies from state to state. Information relevant to your area should be available via your city website, or may even be included on the back of your cable bill. You can also call your town or city hall for guidance on filing complaints at the local/state level.
6. Follow up on your case with the FCC and/or FTC via email
We can’t state the importance of this enough: follow up within 30 days, particularly if filing a complaint with the FCC. The company you file against is required to respond to the FCC, usually within 30 days. If you don’t follow up, it’s possible for the company to simply mark your issue as “resolved” with the FCC and continue ignoring you.
If specific follow-up information is not included with your complaint, email and call after 2–3 weeks to ensure that you aren’t going to get sent back to square one if the case “times out.”
7. File a formal complaint
This is the “nuclear option” of consumer complaints and isn’t to be taken lightly. If your issue is serious enough that you’re willing to pay the $200 submission fee and potentially hire a lawyer to help with the paperwork, this may be the only option left in your court. Formal complaints should only be filed if you are sure beyond all doubt that your issue is a legally-enforceable offense.
One final option: Contact your federal representatives
Finally, if you believe your issue constitutes a public good concern, you can call your Federal Representatives and complain directly. You can call their office, email them, and write letters voicing your concern with broadband costs and fees.
Here’s a helpful directory that makes it easy to figure out who your reps are and how to contact them: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
When filing a complaint of any kind, be direct and insistent, but calm and polite. Don’t expect immediate results, but do know that the more people complain and speak up, the more likely change will happen.
Share with your friends
Jameson Zimmer is a technology and telecom expert hailing from Charlottesville, Virginia. His work with data-driven companies like BroadbandNow has helped bring attention to consumer issues like municipal broadband.