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Consumer Groups Criticize Broadband Providers for Advertising Practices, Including Use of Maximum Speeds

WASHINGTON, October 15, 2009 – Six public interest organizations, including Consumers Union, on Wednesday filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission urging the agency to protect consumers from misleading and confusing advertising and billing practices by phone, cable and wireless providers.

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By Mercy Gakii, Reporter-Researcher, BroadbandCensus.com; and Rahul Gaitonde, Reporter, BroadbandCensus.com

WASHINGTON, October 15, 2009 – Six public interest organizations, including Consumers Union, on Wednesday filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission urging the agency to protect consumers from misleading and confusing advertising and billing practices by phone, cable and wireless providers.

The consumer groups argue that current protections are insufficient and urge the FCC to require meaningful, not misleading, disclosure.

These groups would like to force billing and advertising practices which are more transparent and easier to understand. These companies often offer introductory rates and special offers to some customers which then change without consumers knowing in advance when their rates will be affected.

The other organizations were Consumer Federation of America, Free Press, Media Access Project, the New America Foundation and Public Knowledge.

“When consumers have the facts, they can make informed choices,” said Chris Riley, policy counsel of Free Press. “Consumers are being bombarded with inconsistent and incomplete information when shopping for service providers or plans, and then they are baffled by misleading and confusing bills once they sign up. Customers invest a lot of money in these services and spend a great deal of time using them. That’s why the FCC must ensure truth in billing and must establish clear disclosure rules so that consumers do not fall victim to the dubious and misleading practices of their phone or Internet access providers.”

“The [FCC] can and should adopt stronger consumer protections for a broad range of services typically ‘bundled’ together by providers, including voice, video, and broadband Internet access offerings on both wireline and wireless platforms,” said Matt Wood, associate director of Media Access Project. “Competition between providers depends on the free flow of truthful information to potential and existing customers. The Commission has ample jurisdiction and justification to adopt rules requiring the disclosure of the actual costs and limitations of service plans.”

“Today, a consumer needs an accounting degree to navigate the terms of service and understand what they’re actually paying for,” said Joel Kelsey, Policy Analyst with Consumers Union. “Otherwise, it seems like your phone and cable bill can change month to month.”

The groups criticized practices commonly used by the phone and cable industry including internet access services being labeled with theoretical “maximum speeds,” rather than actual speeds, and with the actual speeds lagging behind advertised rates by up to 50 percent.

Service providers often deliberately obscure the real cost of services with misleading advertising that hides fees, surcharges, promotional periods, early termination fees and bundling requirements, the groups said.

The groups called the “Speed Boost” service the most confusing of these adverting phrases — because the ads say that the service gives customers a boost in service during “high traffic” times. Consumers are unable to determine, they said, if they are actually getting this boost in speed.

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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Ookla Has Verizon as Fastest Q1 Fixed Provider, T-Mobile Takes Top Spot for Mobile

T-Mobile was also named the most consistent mobile operator and topped 5G download speeds.

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Image of Speedtest from May 2017 by Daniel Aleksandersen used with permission

WASHINGTON, April 18, 2022 – A market report released Friday by performance metrics web service Ookla named Verizon the fastest fixed broadband provider in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2022, and T-Mobile as the fastest mobile operator during the same period.

Verizon had a median download speed of 184.36 Mbps, edging out Comcast Xfinity’s speed of 179.12 Mbps. T-Mobile’s median mobile speed was 117.83 Mbps.

Verizon had the lowest latency of all providers, according to Ookla, well ahead of Xfinity’s fourth place ranking, yet sat at third for consistency behind both Xfinity and Spectrum.

T-Mobile was also the most consistent mobile operator during the first quarter, achieving an Ookla consistency score of 88.3 percent, which along with median download speed represented an increase from the fourth quarter of 2021.

The company also achieved the fastest median 5G download speed, coming in at 191.12 Mbps.

Verizon also notably increased its 5G download speed from its Q4 metric, attributed in part to the turning on of new C-band spectrum in January following deployment delays and protest from airlines. For mobile speeds, it stood in second behind T-Mobile, bumping AT&T to a standing of third. These rankings were the same for mobile measures of latency and consistency.

Yet on 5G availability, AT&T remains ahead of Verizon.

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra came in as the fastest popular device in the country, running at 116.33 Mbps.

Ookla is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Broadband Data

FCC’s Rosenworcel: Broadband Nutrition Labels Will Create New Generation of Informed Buyers

The FCC hopes companies will make it easier for consumers to choose a broadband plan that fits their needs.

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Photo of Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel speaking at the Mobile World Conference 2022 in Barcelona

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband nutrition labels will usher in a new era where buyers have simple information about what they’re buying, agency Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said Friday.

Consumers should know what they’re signing up for when they spend hundreds “or even thousands” of dollars per year for internet service. She was speaking at Friday’s commission hearing on its so-called broadband nutrition label initiative.

The hearing comes on top of a public comment period on the initiative. Many providers are pushing for more flexible regulations on compliance.

When consumers choose a broadband provider for their household, Rosenworcel said may people make decisions with “sometimes incomplete and inaccurate information.”

“The problem for broadband consumers isn’t a total lack of information, but there’s loads of fine print,” Rosenworcel said. “It can be difficult to know exactly what we are paying for and these disclosures are not consistent from carrier to carrier,” which makes comparing prices and services harder and more time-consuming for consumers.

The comments built on other recent speeches by Rosenworcel promoting the initiative, encouraging state attorneys general’s ability to enforce companies’ commitments through their states’ consumer protection statutes.

The FCC began a plan in 2015 for broadband labels that was voluntary. The new initiative directed by last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law makes this effort mandatory for broadband providers.

Matt Sayre, managing director of cross sector economic development firm Onward Eugene, said residents in rural Oregon would benefit from simple information when considering broadband providers. During a time where dial-up and satellite-based offerings were primarily available, Sayre said his neighbors “never used terms like latency or packet loss.”

“These are important aspects of good internet service, but not easily understood by most people,” Sayre said. “Citizens understood they needed better service but were uncertain about what tier of service they needed. This is where broadband labels can be very helpful.”

The hearing was the agency’s first on the initiative.

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Small ISP Organizations Push FCC for Flexibility on Broadband Label Compliance

Advocates say strict compliance requirements may economically harm small providers.

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Photo of outgoing WISPA CEO of Claude Aiken from April 2018 by New America used with permission

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2022 ­­– In comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday, organizations representing small internet providers are pushing for flexible regulations on compliance with a measure that requires clear reporting of broadband service aspects to consumers.

The measure was adopted at a late January meeting by the commission, mandating that providers list their pricing and speed information about services in the format of a “broadband nutrition label” that mimics a food nutrition label. Congress’ bipartisan infrastructure bill enacted in the fall required that the FCC adopt such policy.

The organizations that submitted comments Wednesday say that strict compliance requirements for the new measure may economically harm small providers.

Among those leading the charge are trade associations Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association and America’s Communications Association as well as provider Lumen Technologies.

In comments, limited resources of smaller providers were cited as factors which could disadvantage them in terms of complying with the measure to the FCC’s standards and several organizations asked for small providers to be given extra time to comply.

In separate comments, internet provider Lumen said that the FCC must make multiple changes to its approach if it is to “avoid imposing new obligations that arbitrarily impose excessive costs on providers and undermine other policy goals.”

Last month, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that she looks forward to increased coordination between the FCC and state attorneys general for the enforcement of the measure.

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