Report: US ISPs Aren't Transparent About Prices And Speeds, And Regulators Generally Don't Care

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

By now we've well established that regional monopolization, limited competition, and the (state and federal) corruption that enables both (aka regulatory capture) are why US broadband is spotty, expensive, and slow. With neither competent regulatory oversight nor meaningful competition to drive improvements, regional dominant broadband providers simply... don't bother. The end result goes beyond high prices to substandard customer service, privacy violations, net neutrality violations, and unnecessary surcharges, usage caps, and fees they often don't clearly disclose.

A recent report from the Institute For Local Self Reliance took a look at how transparent U.S. ISPs are about broadband prices, line restrictions, and hidden surcharges. And the results are about what you'd expect. As in, most U.S. ISPs do a fairly terrible job (quite intentionally) of making it clear how much you'll pay for broadband, what your upstream and downstream speeds are, and whether there's any hidden restrictions or fees you'll face once you sign up.

Why? For one, big ISPs don't like making it easy to do direct price comparisons, lest people clearly understand the real impact of limited competition and regional market failure. They also routinely engage in false advertising where they advertise one lower price, then hit you with a bunch of bullshit fees. Big ISPs also tend to hide anything that doesn't make them look good or could showcase their network underinvestment, such as pathetic upload speeds:

This is, the report notes, much less of a problem with local community broadband networks. Previous studies out of Harvard had noted community broadband generally offers lower, more transparent prices than large ISPs, and that's showcased again here:

Again, this isn't just a failure of competition, but a failure of regulatory oversight and telecom policy. The FCC's 2015 net neutrality rules included a provision requiring that ISPs be transparent about pricing and line restrictions. And while the net neutrality aspect of their 2015 order was repealed by the Trump FCC, the transparency component was not. Still, despite the transparency rule having now existed for six years under two different political parties, the report notes how nobody at the FCC has bothered to enforce it:

"The Transparency Rule, however, is largely unenforced. It is commonly accepted that without effective government regulation or competitive market pressure, ISPs are in a position to abuse their power. The Internet access industry is governed neither by regulation nor market pressure in most communities. Because providers don’t have to answer to regulation or worry about their customers switching providers if they offer less than satisfactory service, providers are rarely held accountable for information that is missing or hard to find. Were providers held accountable for making accessible disclosures, customers could less easily be exploited.

The broadband component of the recently-passed infrastructure bill added some additional language requiring that ISPs provide a sort of "nutrition label" for their connections clearly disclosing all restrictions and sneaky fees. But again, rules are only useful if they're enforced, and the FCC historically under both parties... just hasn't bothered doing so. Big ISPs like AT&T aren't just politically powerful campaign contributors, they're effectively tethered to law enforcement and intelligence systems, reducing any incentive to hold them accountable for pretty much anything of note.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: competition, false advertising, fcc, prices, speeds, transparency


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2021 @ 7:40am

    Report scores

    FYI:

    0: No information is available either on the provider's website or the FCC Transparency Disclosures Portal
    1: Infomation is available but is unclear, incomplete, or difficult to find
    2: Information is available and easy to find

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 16 Nov 2021 @ 9:45am

    " is largely unenforced. "

    Wow,
    Anyone know a police officer or Citizen that would like to wonder Around in a car and test all the links, and how far they go out, for a reasonable wage?
    And then watch some of them get a Great payout by the Corps to not do the job properly.
    Then we get the good ones to report this and they can keep the bribes, which should be very good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 16 Nov 2021 @ 9:49am

      Re: " is largely unenforced. "

      how many people do you think we can get that would do it for free? those that wonder WHY they aint got Internet connections, those that Wonder why its SLOW, those that wonder Why they cant setup a Wireless relay out into the countryside(number of people is that answer).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2021 @ 10:17am

    but the truth wont hurt them so why even mention this? until members of Congress grow pairs, do what is needed to help the people they represent rather than just the companies that give campaign contributions, nothing is ever gonna change! the companies (and inparticular, the bosses of those companies) are gonna continue to make massive killings, in more ways than one and the people are just gonna continue to be kicked in the nuts!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2021 @ 10:47am

    I was wondering where the like of comcast and charter were, but i see they are just in another table, as cable broadband.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Advertisment

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Discord

The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...

Loading...
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.