U.S. communications regulators have reminded Internet service providers to promise consumers only the speed and quality of service that they actually deliver, or face penalties.
In an advisory, the Federal Communications Commission urged both fixed and wireless Internet service providers (ISPs) to comply with regulations that say the companies must be clear and accurate in the information they tell consumers about their broadband services.
The warning shot to ISPs, such as Comcast and Verizon Communications, comes as the agency crafts new “net neutrality” rules that guide how broadband providers manage web traffic on their networks. The transparency regulations are the only part of the previous “net neutrality” rules set in 2011 that were struck down in court in January.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has sought to establish himself as a strong defender of consumer interests who would punish ISPs whose business practices may hurt consumers or competition. The new “net neutrality” rules have drawn fire from consumer advocates, the public and some Internet companies.
“Consumers deserve to get the broadband service they pay for,” Wheeler said. “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.”
The FCC’s transparency rule requires all ISPs to publicly disclose accurate information about their network management practices, performance and commercial terms of broadband services “sufficient for consumers to make informed choices regarding use of such services” and for companies providing content, applications, services or devices to plan their business.
An FCC test released in June found U.S. cable and fiber ISPs generally delivered the download speeds they claimed but not consistently.
However, the FCC’s report analysed only a snapshot of consumer experiences in 2013 and did not cover wireless carriers’ services, commission representatives said.
What prompted Wednesday’s advisory, they said, were hundreds of complaints from consumers saying the service they were receiving was not the service they thought they were buying, based on the information the ISPs had given them.
These complaints came separately from more than 1 million comments that consumers, public interest groups, lawmakers, trade associations and companies have filed on the FCC’s new proposed net neutrality rules.
A particular point of contention in the proposal is whether the FCC should allow some “commercially reasonable” deals where content providers could pay ISPs to ensure fast and high-quality download speeds. Wheeler has insisted the FCC could carefully guard against any abuses of the rules and would review such agreements on a case-by-case basis.
FCC representatives could not comment on whether penalties were coming for any ISPs following Wednesday’s warning.
Representatives from the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and the wireless trade group CTIA did not immediately comment.