The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) posted a notice on its website today reminding broadband providers that they’re not supposed to lie to their customers because it violates the Transparency Rule, as if that wasn’t obvious.
“Consumers deserve to get the broadband service they pay for,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (h/t Julian Hattem at The Hill). “After today, no broadband provider can claim they didn’t know we were watching to see that they disclose accurate information about the services they provide.”
Notice is unlikely to soften criticism of Wheeler
Wheeler has come under criticism this year for changing the FCC’s net neutrality rules to a much softer form that many critics say abandons the principle altogether, and people have questioned whether it was appropriate for a former telecom lobbyist to become the industry’s top regulator. While no one would argue with the importance of the Transparency rule, posting a notification to telecoms that they’re supposed to provide accurate information to customers is an odd decision at best.
“The Transparency Rule prevents a broadband Internet access provider from making assertions about its service that contain errors, are inconsistent with the provider’s disclosure statement, or are misleading or deceptive,” says the notice.
If FCC believes that broadband companies are providing misleading or deceptive information to customers it should just take action; if the ISPs aren’t violating the Transparency rule then the notice is a PR move. Either way, it’s unlikely to win over any of Wheeler’s critics.
Slow bandwidth, net neutrality are related issues
While there may be some more specific complaints that Wheeler is aware of, the notice is probably a reaction to complaints that people don’t consistently get the broadband speeds that they are paying for, and that the advertised speeds are really upper limits that are only occasionally reached in short bursts. This discrepancy was the basis of a recent name and shame campaign where Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) started posting average speeds for ISPs across the country, though it backed down and said the campaign was just a ‘test’.
Net neutrality proponents argue that when an ISP throttles the speed on a specific service or website it isn’t giving its customers the level of service that they have paid for, and the two issues aren’t completely separate.