Consumer groups alert FCC about broadband practices

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WASHINGTON, January 21, 2011 — Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America today filed a letter with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about evidence of recent moves by broadband Internet providers that the groups said “appear to be contrary to preserving an open Internet.”

Last month, the FCC adopted “net neutrality” rules to limit Internet providers from favoring or discriminating against traffic that goes over their networks.

Parul P. Desai, policy counsel for Consumers Union, said, “The rules were adopted to help maintain an open Internet. As stakeholders prepare for the rules to take effect, the FCC should take a hard look at practices that may violate the spirit or letter of the rules in order to deter anti-consumer behavior.”

In comments signed by Desai and Consumer Federation of American research director Mark Cooper, the groups cited two broadband providers:

Comcast: The nation’s largest provider of broadband for the home has reportedly imposed unnecessary obstacles to determine whether a cable modem offered by Zoom Technologies would be harmful to Comcast’s network. Zoom performs a variety of tests before selling its cable modems, but Comcast requires an additional, lengthy testing process. The groups said it appears the standards and extent of Comcast’s testing is not readily available to device manufacturers, which would suggest the testing is being used to deter Zoom from offering its modem device to consumers. If this is correct, Comcast would be blocking the ability of consumers to attach “non-harmful devices” to their broadband service, which would violate the new rules.

MetroPCS The wireless company MetroPCS has announced a basic plan which includes unlimited talk, text, and “4G Web browsing with unlimited YouTube access” for $40 per month. For an additional $10 or $20 per month, consumers would be able to access additional features like “data access,” access to audio downloads, or access to certain video-on-demand channels. It’s unclear what websites consumers would be able to access as part of the plans. The lack of clarity about “web browsing” and “data access” has raised concerns about whether customers will be able to visit sites not affiliated with MetroPCS without additional costs, or access applications that compete with MetroPCS, such as Skype.
The consumer groups also noted that the FCC had approved a transparency rule that requires broadband providers to disclose their terms and performance characteristics for consumers to make informed choices and for “content, application, service, and device providers to develop, market, and maintain Internet offerings.”

Desai and Cooper wrote, “The Commission should examine the disclosures of both Comcast and MetroPCS to determine whether they conform to the Commission’s rule on transparency.”

For a copy of the groups’ filing, contact David Butler at dbutler@consumer.org or 202-462-6262.