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The FCC reminds ISPs they can’t mess with broadband without telling the consumer

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The Federal Communications Commission issued a reminder today to ISPs that they are supposed to be open and transparent about anything they do that might impact a consumer’s broadband experience. Presumably this also includes notifying them if they can’t stream Netflix because the network is congested, letting them know if their data caps are not accurate and making sure their terms of service are intelligible.

A spokeswoman at the FCC explained that the notice was not directed at any one practice but was issued in response to complaints that the agency has received from consumers related to their broadband. “We’ve received hundreds of complaints in the last year where consumers are concerned that they are left in the dark in terms of what they are receiving, so this is a reminder to ISPs to disclose all of the aspects of the services they provide.”

The transparency rule is the one element of the 2010 Open Internet Order that wasn’t struck down by the courts, so it has been and will continue to be in effect no matter what happens with network neutrality. The FCC has the power to censure and fine a company that violates the transparency order.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler issued this statement on the Enforcement Advisory:

“Consumers deserve to get the broadband service they pay for. 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. The FCC’s transparency rule requires that consumers get the information they need to make informed choices about the broadband services they purchase. 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.”

While the rule does say that ISPs must provide the details of their network management plans, I’m 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.

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.

35 Responses to “The FCC reminds ISPs they can’t mess with broadband without telling the consumer”

  1. No one ever reads the terms of service or their contract. I own a small ISP and have installed service myself for about 500 customers and only one person ever ask for a copy.
    When I first started I would try to go over everything line by line, but they would always cut me me off, saying that’s ok and signing the contract.
    Also the further you can keep the FCC from your internet the better you will be, they are the reason it in the shape it’s in now. Most of you are in larger areas and complain your not getting your full 25 or 50 megs your thought you would get. Most rural areas are lucky to get 1 meg. and many are still on dial up. And the FCC keeps selling out the wireless spectrum to the highest bidders and many have no plans to deploy any services at all, just buy them so no one else can and compete.

  2. daniel kalna

    First off, calling netflix and youtube bandwidth hogs is a joke. If 34% of the traffic on the internet is by netflix, then that means alot of people are choosing to watch a videos from netflix. if netflix didnt exist, then that 34% of people will be watching videos elsewhere. same amount of traffic. This is clearly telcom’s trying to make successful content providers pay for their crappy infrastructure. if the telcoms get their way, this will kill startups because their service will be crappy. Here is what I think will happen if Telcoms get their way. Netflix will have to charge more to view their somewhat lacking choice of videos. I dont mind mind paying the 8.99 for the limited selection they have. when they raise my rates, I will be dropping netflix. I will choose another video streaming company and then the telcoms will go after them. if they cant come up with the fee, they will fail. Sounds like extortion to me. I already pay 50 dollars a month for internet access. that is all I want,. I do NOT want my telcom to be my content provider.

  3. Franklin Pierce

    Every breath and every utterance escaping out of Tom Wheeler is suspect to me. This former chief lobbyist for the US National Cable Industry Association and former chief lobbyist for the US Cellular and Internet Industry Association shouldn’t be anywhere -near- the regulatory process.

    Here, I believe, he is simply communicating to his membership (Comcast and AT&T) that ISP’s don’t have to be nebulous or nefarious, or vague or unintelligible in their contract terms. They can come right out and say they aren’t promising anything except to screw consumers to the maximum extent possible, and to change the terms and pricing of service at a moments notice as they please. They are, after all, monopolies in 70% or more of the areas they “serve.” Monopolies are in the business of creating artificial scarcity, raising prices at every opportunity, and investing absolutely as little as possible. This is proven by history, not a prediction.

  4. Franklin Pierce

    If the FCC and Congress allow the Comcast and AT&T mergers, and allow these monopolies to implement Metered Billing for internet service for home users, it will be a disaster for US consumers and for American technology. And proof positive that the FCC and Congress are in the pockets of these monopolies.

    This is not hyperbole. We -cannot- let this happen. Don’t stop writing to the DOJ, the FCC and your Congress-critters. These monopolies plan to slap you with a $2,000 to $3,000 annual “tax” increase over the next 3-5 years. No exaggeration. They have -publicly- stated this.

  5. Beach Lover

    First, the FCC should be looking at broadband and mobile networks. Second, regardless of what the agreement says or the ISPs obligation, it all comes down to decreased or limited feature/functionality. When I signed up for FiOS and Verizon Wireless, I was getting the 90%-95% of the published speed (down & up). Two years later, broadband is 50% and mobile network is 10%. The ISPs should be bound by a Service Level Agreement that will penalized them if they can’t deliver the expected performance and/or pay back customers as compensation.

  6. Don Patrick

    Why is it that the ISP’s of this country don’t understand that the American consumer doesn’t really mind if they make scadzillions of dollars. Americans will pay it and pay it willingly. The only problem these ISP’s have is that those same consumers want to feel that they are getting a good product, at a fair price, and a bit of service that doesn’t have to be obtained by threat of a lawsuit.
    So what do they do? They give us the worst customer service of any industry in the country. They make promises that would make a used car dealer blush. They build a system that services 2/3 of the country and which leaves the other 1/3 virtually in the dark ages of dial-up or poor DSL—-AND—- They charge us more than any other citizens of any other country on earth for the privilege of using these services.Then the reins of the federal agency that is supposed to control the excesses of these companies are handed over to a former lobbyist for these same ISP’s. No wonder Americans are ticked off.
    I hear that the heads of these ISP’s make tens of millions of dollars in compensation, with huge golden parachutes and scads of perks thrown in. —EARN IT—Build something you can be proud of. You can bet Bill Gates is proud of what his company does, and if Steve Jobs took over Comcast the first thing he probably would have done was to go into the bathroom and thrown up. The second thing would have been to began fixing it.
    I truly don’t know how you take all that money, and then go home and sleep at night knowing what the world thinks of you.

  7. Foneteck

    I can’t believe OBAMA nominated TOM WHEELER to be head of the FCC and that CONGRESS approved it. TOM WHEELER was and maybe still is the biggest shill LOBBYIST for the CABLE and INTERNET providing companies, WHEELER was trying to KILL NET NEUTRALITY while a LOBBYIST and I can’t see a leopard changing it’s spots that easily. TOM WHEELER should be removed from his post at the FCC as there are too many question of CONFLICTS OF INTEREST with him in charge.

  8. ccrh2012

    I want to know, do the data caps include or exclude the data necessary to transmit data, ie network transmission control data, all the data sent and received to establish, maintain and terminate connections. I want to know if the “speeds guaranteed by the cable companies” mean that they can connect to the cable company’s servers at that speed or to any server over the internet at that speed.

  9. DragonDagger

    Since the inception of the internet, not a single ISP has been fined over access or speed issues. Great enforcement there FCC, NOT! Reminder from ISPs to FCC, we don’t give a rat’s arse.

  10. last time i checked ignorance of the law was not a valid defense. These companies have many lawyers to defend themselves with and you are going to tell me they didnt know.

  11. Paul Butler

    LOL, like the FCC can do anything! This organization should sink its teeth into one of these whales and get them for capping download speeds. I have cablevision’s optimum service and my speed down according to tests is 30+ meg but why can I only get about 4.7. And I am downloading from my office with 10 gig available? Then download multiple files for multiple sites I can never get beyond 4.7, and the more files I have and add, it remains the same and other file transfers slow to accommodate the new one, and when at 4.7 meg down after 10 minutes or so I can’t even browse the web as I am so capped. I envied the FCC to come and look!

    • Jeremy

      Can’t speak for your service in particular, but are you mistaking megaBITS per second and megaBYTES per second? Megabits per second (Mbps) is the typical unit of measure for network speed, but when downloading through a web browser (for example), the download is measured in megabytes per second (MBps). It’s a very subtle distinction, but 1 MBps = 8 Mbps. And 4.7 MBps = 37.6 Mbps.

  12. Joel Taft

    Consumers do have a choice. Organize for Christ sake and for 6 months go internet and cable free. See how quick they change their tune.

  13. I believe we have the most corrupt Government in the World. The US Gov is always pointing fingers at other countries but recent uncovering show just how corrupt and deceptive our Government has been. Even more with big Corp paying off the Congress and other Government Officials. Although the US is suppose to be FREE market the system is geared so you cannot start your own companies that will infringe upon the big companies and infringe upon their bottom line. Even the Courts will throw out Law Suits that are advantageous to Big Corp.

  14. Ha! Ha! Ha! ha!.. I am a Rolling!
    You think anyone will care what the FCC has to say….
    Ha! ha!…. They are just one more Government Joke.
    And they will prove it soon. By letting Comcarp get Time Warner…
    Even after 95% of the public said. NO! To that….
    The FCC Ha! ha!…
    The FCC Jokers!

  15. Allergic2idiots

    “Consumers deserve to get the broadband service they pay for. 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. The FCC’s transparency rule requires that consumers get the information they need to make informed choices about the broadband services they purchase. 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.”.

    Translation: We here at the FCC are “fluffing” the consumers to look like we care, but in fact, are doing dick about it.


  16. Steve Keller

    Well I will believe the FCC will actually tell the ISPs to fix their speeds when pigs fly. Even getting these ISPs to fix their problems and lines will never happen.

    • If a car company says “this car flies” and substantial numbers of consumers are sufficiently ignorant of automotive technology to believe it will actually fly, then the car company should be fined for false advertising. However, they are not obligated to produce a flying car.

  17. Crow TheRobot

    So 4 years late you’re “Reminding” them?? Big whoop FCC, now why don’t you actually try helping the consumers instead of just serving them on a platter for these schmucks.

      • Franklin Pierce

        I simply don’t understand why Obama appointed Wheeler, a right-wing, life-long lobbyist. Unbelievable. Perhaps a Republican quid-pro-quot for some other appointment. This one, however, will cost the American consumer more than Obamacare. No exaggeration.