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Free Press Asks FCC for Broadband Bill of Rights

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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.

4 Responses to “Free Press Asks FCC for Broadband Bill of Rights”

  1. I clearly see the desire from customers to be able to understand what service providers are doing to manage their networks. I believe that the best companies should have open dialogs and communications on their policies. That said, I do not believe that regulation from the FCC is the best way to accomplish this.

    While the FCC might feel like a quick fix, laws typically lag behind technology and run rapidly into problems. Many of the FCC’s problems today are from the way previous laws were written. In the past, phone companies and cable operators were able to navigate around the laws that applied to them. When a new technology like WIMAX is deployed, or meshes of home Wi-Fi access points align to form a citywide network, will those be held accountable? These are the types rapid technology changes that turn a well thought out law into a problem for all of us to face for many years.

    In the end, the customer holds the buying power and has the ability to impact what carriers do. Customer acquisition and retention are what drive carriers, especially those dealing directly with consumers, where brand integrity is key. This is all about driving a relationship and trust in how products are delivered. In the end, the court of public opinion is the best measure and not legal interaction from the FCC.

    Peder Jungck
    Founder and CTO
    CloudShield Technologies, Inc.