The FCC got a recommendation from its Staff to finally implement one of the aspects of net neutrality that large ISPs are bound to hate. They are recommending that ISPs publish consumer disclosure forms that declare all of the relevant facts about their broadband products.
This is not a new requirement and was originally ordered in the first FCC net neutrality decision several years ago. Since it was never challenged in court, this portion of the original order always remained in effect. But the FCC never got around to telling carriers specifically what they must disclose to customers.
The list of what Staff is recommending to be disclosed is really thorough and includes all of the information that customers ought to know about their broadband product. This includes:
- What the product would cost if bought as a standalone product, not part of a bundle.
- Details of how those prices change if the product is in a bundle.
- Details of the charges. For instance, if there is a data cap, then what is the base fee and how much is additional data?
- Any associated charges for a modem, WiFi router, or other equipment.
- Details of other monthly fees. This is a great requirement because large carriers have been inventing various fees to make their base prices look lower, and a customer has no way of knowing in most cases if these fees represent taxes the carriers must pay or are just pocketed by the carrier.
- A list of the taxes that apply to the service.
- Average data speeds. The FCC wants carriers to report the average peak download and upload speeds that come from FCC testing or carrier tests. This will be a real challenge for some carriers since broadband speeds can vary widely within their network. For instance, DSL speeds vary by the distance from the central office. Cable modem speeds can vary a lot between different network nodes. And some technologies varies by the number of users on the system.
- Average latency. This is the network delay in getting data from the web.
- Average packet loss. How much of the data you are downloading comes through accurately. This and latency are two things that carriers rarely disclose.
- A list of network management practices that might affect service. The FCC wants details about how such practices are triggered and applied to the network.
- How to make complaints.
For now these rules are only going to apply to carriers with more than 100,000 customers. The FCC is going to consider, however, how this might apply to smaller carriers at some later date. One has to imagine that at least some of this is going to be required for everybody.
That is an incredibly detailed list of requirements and covers every aspect of selling a data product. Carriers that deliver honest speeds are going to have no problems with these requirements. In fact, if you deliver a fast data product that actually delivers what you advertise, then these disclosure forms could become a competitive edge since you will be able to point to the competitor’s forms that tell a different story.
One thing that this ought to stop is carriers selling ‘up-to’ speeds since they are now going to have to disclose the actual speeds they deliver. It’s very common to see the large companies selling the same speeds in every market although the speeds they advertise are only available in urban parts of the states. This results in people thinking they are buying one speed but getting something far slower.
I’ve always wondered why the FCC took so long to do this. This requirement has been on the books now for many years and basically all that was needed was for the FCC to tell the carriers to implement what had been ordered. But it’s finally here and I am looking forward to seeing how the big companies comply with this. This level of required detail doesn’t give carriers a lot of wiggle room and perhaps customers are finally going to have a way to compare competing data products.