internet broadband speeds
July 24, 2014

FCC Warns ISPs About Violating Transparency Rules With False Speed Claims

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued an advisory on Wednesday reminding Internet service providers (ISPs) that they must disclose accurate data regarding the connectivity speed for both home and mobile broadband users.

The agency went on to state that it had received hundreds of complaints on the issue over the past several months. Failure to properly make this information available to the public is a violation of the Open Internet Transparency Rule, a 2011 law designed to ensure that consumers have access to information required to make informed choices about broadband service providers.

The Open Internet Transparency Rule states that the information provided must be “accurate and truthful” and must include disclosure related to network management practices, performance, and commercial terms and service. It also applies to actual broadband speed, latency, monthly rates, usage-based fees, network management practices (including those related to congestion and high-traffic periods) that help customers make informed decisions.

“Consumers deserve to get the broadband service they pay for,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement Wednesday. “We expect providers to be fully transparent about the details of their services, and we will hold them accountable if they fall down on this obligation to consumers.”

“The FCC’s transparency rule requires that consumers get the information they need to make informed choices about the broadband services they purchase,” he continued. “After today, no broadband provider can claim they didn’t know we were watching to see that they disclose accurate information about the services they provide.”

“Consumers rightly expect to receive the Internet access that they have been promised by their service providers,” added Travis LeBlanc, acting chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau. “We are committed to holding broadband Internet providers accountable if they fail to deliver on the commercial promises they make to the American people.”

According to USA Today’s Mike Snider, the FCC would not disclose whether or not Wednesday’s advisory indicated the agency was actively investigating any specific ISP for speed-related issues. Any service providers found violating the Transparency Rule could be subject to fines or other enforcement action under the Communications Act.

In June, the FCC first announced its intention to investigate broadband speeds – a result of the fallout from the battle over Netflix and Verizon over who deserved the blame for poor video streaming performance. At the time, the agency was in the fact-finding stage, gathering information pertaining to the agreements between online content providers and ISPs to make sure that movies and TV shows reach subscribers without incident.

The issues between Netflix and Verizon started in May, when Netflix customers started seeing messages blaming buffering issues on ISP traffic. Verizon responded with a “cease-and-desist” letter threatening legal action unless the streaming service stopped blaming the issues on the broadband network.

Netflix would later announce it would temporarily stop sending the performance-related messages to their customers by June 16, but noted the program could be resumed at a later date after officials reviewed the data. However, a few days before that deadline, Wheeler announced the agency would be looking into the matter.

While the Open Internet Transparency Rule does require ISPs to provide the details of their network management plans, GigaOM’s Stacey Higginbotham said that she was “not sure the FCC could successfully say actions like Verizon not providing enough open ports onto its network would qualify as a problem.”

“However, concerns about poorly worded service offers or inaccurate counts of data against a data cap would certainly apply, as would blocking or slowing certain types of traffic without explaining that to the consumer,” she added. “Of course, in many areas of the country, even if an ISP were to stand up and say, ‘I am blocking Netflix and my data cap measurements are a bit off,’ consumers don’t have much choice in switching providers.”