The FCC voted on June 16, 2017, to allow cable operators to use a customer’s “verified email address” to deliver information required by Section 76.1602(b) of the FCC’s rules, so long as the operator also notifies the customer of the option to receive paper notices. However, the FCC’s decision will not be entirely satisfying to cable operators because it does not endorse the website posting of notices, leaving cable operators that elect this new option to grapple with different delivery methods for customers depending on the status of their verified email addresses.
Background. Section 76.1602(b) requires cable operators to give customers “in writing” various categories of information about cable services, packages, rates, and related information. The information must be delivered to each customer upon installation and annually thereafter. The Commission new order finds that the use of email can satisfy the requirement that notices be “in writing,” but put conditions on the use of email that may not be ideal for use in all cases.
Verified email. To take advantage of the new ruling, cable operators must ensure a customer’s email address meets the Commission’s definition of a “verified email address” before electronically sending the initial and annual customer notices. As defined in the Declaratory Ruling, a “verified email address” is one that:
- the customer has provided to the cable operator for purposes of receiving communication, or
- the customer regularly uses to communicate with the cable operator, or
- has been confirmed by the customer as an appropriate vehicle for the delivery of notices.
An email address that a cable operator supplies the customer when they sign up for broadband service is not “verified” unless it satisfies one of the three tests above. If an operator becomes aware that a verified email address is no longer operational, it must verify another address or revert to delivery of paper notices.
The FCC rejected a request to permit electronic delivery of annual notices via other means “reasonably calculated to reach the individual customer,” such as by including in a subscriber’s monthly bill the address of a website containing the annual notice text. In contrast, the FCC confirmed that, for customers who are being notified through a verified email address, it is acceptable to include a website link to the text of the annual notice.
Opt-out notice. Customers must be notified in the body of each email delivering the notices that they can choose to receive a paper version of the notice and discontinue email delivery. At a minimum, the email must include a telephone number for the customer to call to opt out of email delivery.
Other Annual Notices. The new ruling covers only the initial and annual notices required by Section 76.1602(b), and does not address other customer notices required by the FCC rules or the Communications Act, such as the annual privacy notice.