The FCC teaches me a lesson: Don't complain

Snail Mail

Four separate times over the space of eight densely typewritten pages, the letter from the Federal Communications Commission to me mentions the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995.

Allow me to fully explain the irony.

Six months ago I filed a complaint online with the FCC about mistreatment suffered by my family at the hands of a run-amok Verizon robo-call system. Last week I received a response from the agency via snail-mail ... which given that a half year had elapsed since my complaint, could have been delivered by an actual snail.

Yet tardiness isn't the crux of this "your tax dollars at work" tale.

Background first via a post here Sept. 15, 2008:

Nine robo-calls in 24 hours, all from Verizon: Nothing could make them stop; not my wife's increasingly urgent pleas (I was away); not the hapless customer service reps who promised relief; not the "in-charge supervisor" who wasn't in charge; and, not even the ever-so-helpful individual who said the barrage was "a national problem" before adding, "We're suggesting that people just unplug their phones."

Unplug our phones? How about you unplug your bloody robo-caller first?

While we had previously encountered difficulties with Verizon -- examples here, here, and here -- this one was particularly egregious both because it was particularly egregious, and because it occurred while my wife was home and I was nestled in a quiet hotel room a full continent away. As any business traveler knows, nothing conducts heat like a telephone line, so upon my arrival home I decided to do something that I cannot recall ever having done before: file a formal, written complaint.

The FCC has a handy-dandy Web form expressly for such venting.

I never expected anything to come of my complaint, of course. Like most people, I just figured that it would be added to the pile -- presuming there was a pile -- and, if the pile got big enough and/or stinky enough, then perhaps I could allow myself to believe that my little poke back at the telecommunications behemoth would have somehow contributed to someone doing something or other of the constructive variety.

In other words, I was not standing astride the mailbox every afternoon for six months waiting for the postal carrier to bring word of an FCC reaction to my complaint. Yet just the other day that reaction is exactly what arrived ... sort of. The first paragraph of the missive reads:

This letter is in response to your complaint filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). We are reviewing your complaint and will contact you if any further information is needed. Thank you for filing.

That's it. Oh, that was just the start of eight densely typewritten pages with the four separate mentions of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, but those three sentences represent the sum total of what one might call pertinent information contained in the correspondence ... and, of course, the first sentence tells me something that I already knew and the third sentence is a mere cordiality.

In other words, the FCC took eight densely typewritten pages to tell me it had received my complaint six months ago and would be in touch if there was any other way in which I could be of assistance to the government.

I'll briefly summarize the rest of the letter, which, in an apparently genuine bow to the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, covered both sides of four sheets of paper:

On Page 2 they tell me my name, address, telephone number and e-mail.

Page 3 tells me where the FCC is located and brings us the first mention of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995.

Page 4 is so densely typewritten that only lawyers are allowed to read it.

Page 5 babbles a bit about privacy in addition to providing the second citation of the Paperwork Reduction Act of ... what year, people? Are you paying attention?

Page 6 reminds me where I live and how I might get in touch with myself before providing a verbatim account of the complaint that I typed six months ago into the FCC's handy-dandy Web form.

Page 7 makes sure I got that FCC address, all right, before reiterating the primacy of the You Know What Reduction Act of You Know When.

Page 8 features more of that for-lawyerly-eyes-only stuff before concluding with one last helping of The Paperwork Reduction and Irony Enablement Act of 1995.

Trust me, I never would have filed the complaint -- never, never, never -- had I known that trees would die so needlessly.

One last point: The return address on the letter reveals that it was sent not from Washington, D.C., but rather from an FCC facility in Gettysburg, Pa. ... Abraham Lincoln, whose historic address there required fewer than 300 words, would be mortified.

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