FCC Tells ISPs That They Better Be Transparent… Or Else It Will Taunt Them Again

from the toothless dept

One part of the FCC’s original “open internet” rules that were allowed to remain in place following February’s appeals court decision was its transparency rules that are supposed to make sure that if ISPs are mucking with your connection (i.e. breaking net neutrality), they at least have to be “transparent” and tell you about it. A few days ago, the FCC decided to briefly make some noise by randomly reminding ISPs that rule was still in place. Of course, as we’ve long been noting, when it comes to the interconnection issue, there’s been a problem for quite some time where ISPs are selling consumers something (access to websites) and not delivering it. In fact, the interconnection issue has become a way for the big broadband access providers to kill net neutrality without killing “net neutrality.” It’s been a big loophole where they get exactly what they want anyway — and it was all done without any “transparency.”

So, in theory, it might be nice if the FCC stepped in and told the broadband providers that they were clearly violating the transparency requirements by letting its border routers clog without revealing what they’re really doing. But is there any chance that the FCC will pick up on that? Hell no.

As Karl Bode over at DSL Reports notes, the FCC has a very long history of letting broadband access providers be incredibly opaque in screwing over subscribers.

Yet as I’ve noted numerous times over the last decade, ISPs consistently are allowed to bury all manner of nonsensical fees below the line, allowing them to covertly jack up consumer broadband bills while leaving the advertised price the same. This is technically false advertising, but I’ve never seen the FCC (or any other regulator) seriously address the practice.

The practice not only fools consumers into paying more for service, it skews telecom policy debate and discussion. Most international and domestic price analysis comparisons use the advertised price. The United States already has some of the most expensive broadband in the world (OECD data); imagine how we rank were one to include fees?

These days of course there’s numerous activation, installation, router and modem rental fees, fees for paying your bill in person, fees for paying your bill via credit card over the phone, etc. These fees, usually communicated “transparently” via mouseprint, are all used to jack up the already-high price of US broadband and television services, but at least some of them are tied to actual costs incurred by the ISP. There’s numerous other fees charged that involve companies doing absolutely nothing, and exist solely to pad the advertised price post sale.

Bode goes even further highlighting more fees, something we’ve discussed in the past as well. From there, he concludes:

Is letting these kinds of fees continue for a decade the kind of tough enforcement the FCC and Tom Wheeler are talking about? Before anybody can take FCC threats of tough transparency enforcement seriously, they’ll need to address the fact they’ve let ISPs engage in aggressive false advertising on price for almost as long as broadband and television have existed.

For pretty much as long as I’ve followed the FCC, it’s bark has been much worse than its bite. It rarely does anything that it should actually be doing to protect consumers. It frequently talks a good game, but action rarely happens. And that’s been true through at least the last four bosses. So it seems rather unlikely that any of the broadband guys are actually worried about the FCC’s latest “warning.”

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Comments on “FCC Tells ISPs That They Better Be Transparent… Or Else It Will Taunt Them Again”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

So it seems rather unlikely that any of the broadband guys are actually worried about the FCC’s latest “warning.”

Something to consider: If the FCC doesn’t even have the spine to crack down on something as ‘mild’ as ISP’s not being transparent about their fees and costs, how serious do you think they take the FCC’s ‘threat’ of Title II reclassification?

Forcing companies to actually be honest about what they charge their customers would likely have some pretty hefty political and public backing(with those opposed being the ISP’s and their bought politicians), and yet they can’t even be bothered to do that, whereas Title II reclassification would be a lot more politically dicey, so if they can’t or won’t do the first, the idea that they’d ever have the stomach to do the second seems to be pretty low, and you can be sure the ISP’s know it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well it didn’t take long for Wheeler senior staffer Gigi Sohn (co-founder and former head of Public Knowledge) to sell out. What’s with your buddy Masnick? How can she be part of the team advocating a fast lane and sitting quietly by as the ISP’s rip off consumers and generally run amok? Nothing like the promise of a prestigious job with an agency to totally corrupt a former consumer advocate. I wonder what role the large donations made by Comcast when she was Executive Director of PK made in her new-found pliability?

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