Agent Issues Commission calls for no gov't intervention The commission's full report is available on the Web at www.ncecic.dot.gov/report.asp. Agents also can obtain a printed copy of the report by e-mailing executive director Richard Fahy at Richard.email@example.com. By Andrew Compart / November 13, 2002 Share 1 -- WASHINGTON -- The National Commission to Ensure Consumer Information and Choice, created by Congress to investigate the plight of travel agents in the U.S., issued its final report Nov. 13 that repeatedly concluded the government should not get involved. "The commission is concerned about the plight of travel agents, but believes that their problems are caused by economic forces that lie beyond the ability of regulation to control," the report stated.One consequence of the philosophy is that the commission did not recommend any action be taken on access to Web fares. To do so would require "expensive and ineffective regulatory intervention," it said.The commission also said requiring equal access "could cause substantial injury to consumers by eliminating some low Web fares entirely."Regarding Orbitz, a major focus of witnesses during the commission hearings, the commission essentially deferred to DOT and Justice Department investigations of the online travel site owned by the five largest U.S. carriers.The commission also urged those departments to give "serious consideration" to forcing Orbitz to eliminate its most-favored-nation contract clause. Under that clause, an airline must provide Orbitz with all the published fares it provides to any other third-party Internet agency or posts on its own Web site, as long as Orbitz matches the terms offered by the other Internet agency.Three commission members dissented on the Orbitz conclusions, describing the MFN clause comments in particular as "inappropriately and unsupportably critical" because "there is nothing anti-competitive or harmful with an effort to attract as many Web fares as possible to one Internet site."The report also included a dissenting view from commission member Paul Ruden, ASTA's senior vice president of industry and legal affairs, in which he said the commission's state concerns about "the unintended consequences of government intervention" should have been outweighed by "the airline-intended consequences of non-intervention."Ruden's view did not win out, and, as a result, the commission issued only three recommendations, two of which rely on persuading airlines to cooperate.First, the commission wants the DOT to report to Congress every two years on distribution issues. Too much is changing too fast to rely on the national's commission's single snapshot, it said.Second, it suggested the Travel Agent Arbiter program run by ARC -- and co-funded by ARC and the airlines -- should be amended and strengthened for use in resolving debit memo disputes.The commission noted the current program creates a barrier by requiring the consent of both the agent and the airline before submitting the dispute to arbitration.The commission said the cost of a proceeding is too high, suggesting the expense could be lowered by letting the arbiter settle disputes in a paper proceeding instead of a hearing in most cases.Third, the commission said the industry should provide agents a special box on tickets to include their service fee charges.On both of the latter two issues, the commission wants Congress to direct the Transportation Department to bring together airline and agency representatives to discuss how to make them happen. Under the proposal, the DOT would report back to Congress in six months on the progress.Get More!Look for additional details on this article in the Nov. 18 issue of Travel Weekly.