Appropriate Roles for FCC and FTC Could Determine Fate of Broadband Consumers

FCC Workshops, National Broadband Plan September 12th, 2009

, Publisher, BroadbandBreakfast.com

By Drew Clark, Editor, Broadband Census.com

WASHINGTON, September 9, 2009 – The Internet can serve as a means for enhancing consumer protections, provided that government agencies play their appropriate role in regulating and disclosing the practices of broadband providers, according to a several consumer advocates.

Speaking at the September 9 workshop of the Federal Communications Commission, the advocates observed that the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission could each play a significant role in enhancing consumer knowledge about broadband.

Mike Nelson, a visiting professor of communications, culture and technology at Georgetown University, and a former Clinton administration internet official, said that the flowering of the e-commerce in the 1990s owed was “due in large part to the decision [by the government] NOT to regulate.”

“I was involved in the [Ira] Magaziner e-commerce report,” said Nelson. “Almost every page had a promise about what the administration will not do.”

The certainty provided by that report was helpful” because in enabled internet application companies to be free from “having to hire as many lawyers” as they otherwise would have to, he said.

Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation, a “tech tank inside a think that that provide support for open architecture,” said that the deregulation of National Science Foundation’s role in the Internet in 1994 has led to “a data acquisition crises of unimagined proportions.”

Meinrath said that this “self-imposed veil of ignorance” precludes a variety of parties from understanding basic information about internet data.

In particular, Meinrath called attention to the fact that internet service providers “diligently work to assert that the public access to as little information as possible.”

He added, “There is no place that I can go that says, show me the providers at my house, the speeds, the uptime, the service level guarantees, the contention ratio, how many people are sharing the single line. You can’t make an informed decision if you don’t have access to that information.”

Nelson, however, called attention to BroadbandCensus.com and its “crowd-sourcing” approach to collecting broadband data about Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition. BroadbandCensus.com uses the open-source NDT speed test, which does collect speed and other significant technical service-level information.

Also speaking on the panel were Joel Kelsey, a policy analyst for Consumers Union, Ari Schwartz, vice president and chief operating officer for the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Debra Berlyn, President of Consumer Policy Solutions.

The three focused on the need for consumers to have appropriate disclosure about privacy protections and data-collection activities.

About BroadbandCensus.com

BroadbandCensus.com was launched in January 2008, and uses “crowdsourcing” to collect the Broadband SPARC: Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition. The news on BroadbandCensus.com is produced by Broadband Census News LLC, a subsidiary of Broadband Census LLC that was created in July 2009.

A recent split of operations helps to clarify the mission of BroadbandCensus.com. Broadband Census Data LLC offers commercial broadband verification services to cities, states, carriers and broadband users. Created in July 2009, Broadband Census Data LLC produced a joint application in the NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program with Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program. In August 2009, BroadbandCensus.com released a beta map of Columbia, South Carolina, in partnership with Benedict-Allen Community Development Corporation.

Broadband Census News LLC offers daily and weekly reporting, as well as the Broadband Breakfast Club. The Broadband Breakfast Club has been inviting top experts and policy-makers to share breakfast and perspectives on broadband technology and internet policy since October 2008. Both Broadband Census News LLC and Broadband Census Data LLC are subsidiaries of Broadband Census LLC, and are organized in the Commonwealth of Virginia. About BroadbandCensus.com.

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