updated 09:45 pm EDT, Mon April 11, 2011
Commission asks for input on "need for speed" info
The FCC is currently seeking comment on a proposal to simplify and standardize the presentation of broadband Internet plans to consumers. The Commission suggests many consumers are left uninformed regarding many of the essential differences between ISP offers, which tend to use a wide range of marketing techniques and inconsistent gauges for essential information such as connection speeds.
ISPs already are required to prominently display or provide easy access to details of their management practices, performance and other terms of service. Initial regulations left the exact definition of "performance" relatively vague, however, without any rules dictating a specific format for the required disclosures.
"Some broadband providers advertise that their offerings support certain applications, but consumers lack standardized tools to determine which speeds and other features they need for a range of services," the public notice reads. "The lack of such information hampers consumers' ability to compare services offered by and among broadband providers."
The Commission is asking for input regarding the specific types of "need for speed" information that is relevant to consumers, though the proposal notes that several additional measurements, including latency and jitter, have a significant impact on certain services such as videoconferencing and web-based gaming.
The fresh proposal appears to represent a continuation of the FCC's existing strategy, which initially focused on false or exaggerated speeds advertised by many ISPs. The Commission then worked to set a definition for what speeds are truly deserving of the label 'broadband,' a benchmark that has climbed over several years to reach 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream.
Despite the suggestion that consumers need even more broadband measurements to make an informed decision, the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau acknowledges a 2010 study that found that 80 percent of broadband customers are unaware of their basic connection speed.
"The marketplace for broadband service is a confusing one for consumers," said CGB Bureau Chief Joel Gurin. "Most people don't understand megabits-per-second in the way they understand miles-per-gallon."