The Free Press on Friday filed a petition with the Federal Communication Commission asking the agency to create rules that would force Internet Service Providers to detail how they manage and route traffic and what actual speeds are on their networks. We know that in some cases advertised speeds are those that only occur on an empty network under ideal conditions. The filing hews closely to what we called for in our Broadband Bill of Rights, but as an activist organization, the Free Press actually has the means to do something about it.
Here at GigaOM, we’ve detailed the traffic blocking, privacy-invading and competition-crushing efforts by ISPs to control the data moving through their pipes to their advantage. The FCC in some cases has come out against such maneuvers, but consumers are still in the dark as to what is actually happening on their broadband lines. Beyond the goal of “reasonable network management,” the FCC has not strayed too far into this fray.
I’m honestly not sure it should. The wrong regulations today could seriously impede services tomorrow as technology offerings change. However, forcing ISPs to disclose their traffic-shaping practices isn’t that onerous, and it would help consumers notice that carriers are blocking certain protocols or re-routing their traffic to serve ads against their surfing habits. From the filing:
Furthermore, disclosure should not proceed on a case-by-case basis, as industry-wide disclosure is needed to protect consumers. Failing to require industry-wide disclosure of network controls will render the Commission powerless to monitor the network effectively to protect against unreasonable network interference and other consumer harms. Disclosure requirements are needed to support the Commission’s ongoing adjudications of violations and reduce the immense burdens on consumers and consumer groups pursuing such adjudications to clarify and vindicate consumers’ right to an open Internet.
Subjecting all ISPs, from those still on copper lines to those offering wireless broadband, would be an important step toward understanding the trade-offs between various broadband providers. This will become more relevant as wireless broadband starts achieving speeds comparable to those offered by landline providers. The way wireless networks handle large data files means they’ll require different network management practices, which consumers should understand before they sign up. When it comes to traffic shaping and network speeds, there’s no such thing as too much information.