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GAO Study Finds that Broadband Data Caps are Causing Customer Confusion and Less Internet Use

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WASHINGTON, July 30, 2014 – Internet service providers are adopting more usage-based pricing models and consumers may be using the internet less as a result, according to preliminary results from a Government Accountability Office study. Consumers may also be neglecting benefits of lower-cost models due to confusion over data caps, the report found.

“In the midst of the net neutrality debate, there is a new threat to the free and open Internet and that is usage-based pricing which may include the throttling or slowing down of data speeds, overage fees and the exemption of some online services or applications from data caps,” said Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif, in a statement and official comment to the Federal Communications Commission on the findings. “These new business models have left consumers wondering whether they will have to foot the bill and how much more it will be.”

The data revealed that all four of the wireless ISPs studied have usage-based pricing, offering higher data allowance tiers at higher cost, while three of the thirteen wireline ISPs do the same and impose fees on exceeding data caps.

Seventy seven participants across focus groups of various backgrounds participated. Of these, many adapted to usage-based wireless plans by limiting their online activities, including limiting streaming and changing plans. Wireline participants were much more critical of these usage-based plans, citing the importance of the internet, comfort with unlimited access, and multi-person households with multiple devices.

Great confusion was also expressed by participants over how much data they individually required. Sandvine, an ISP research firm, noted that “the median wireless customer in North America uses 102 MB of data a month, suggesting more consumers could benefit from low-data plans.” As it stands, however, many users are buying well in excess of that number.

“What if streaming Netflix or Amazon videos counted against your monthly allotment of data…but services owned or affiliated with your broadband provider did not? Or imagine having your wireless provider slow down your service, even though you’re paying for an unlimited plan,” Eshoo said in reference to Verizon Communication’s recent announcement that it would throttle down LTE speeds for intense unlimited-plan users on busy networks.

The study mentioned that internet usage may see 30 percent annual growth for wireless data and at least 20 percent for wireline between 2013 and 2018.

Michael Weinberg, vice president of Public Knowledge, applauded Eshoo’s findings saying that “these preliminary results suggest that these [data cap] concerns are very real and that they may ripple across the entire internet…many consumers recognize that data caps are likely to be used by ISPs to increase the cost of their internet access…we hope that both the FCC and Congress begin taking steps to limit the negative impact that data caps can have on the internet.”

Broadband Data

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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Broadband Data

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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