Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Broadband Consumer Protection Bill Filed by Sen. Klobuchar

Act Directs FCC to Issue Uniform Standards for Rating Broadband Speeds 03/17/2010 San Francisco -  On Monday, March 15, a day in advance of yesterday's elease of the FCC's much anticipated National Broadband Plan (NBP), U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) filed a bill to compel Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to accurately advertise their delivered broadband speeds.

Ahead of the bill's pending posting by the Library of Congress, and thanks to Senator Klobuchar's press office, we provide the "staff working draft" of the bill, below, via our companion site StimulatingBroadband on Scribd.

"As more and more consumers gain access to high-speed internet service, they should know exactly what kind of service they are paying for,” said Klobuchar. “A key factor in a consumer’s decision to purchase broadband internet is how fast the service will be. If providers are advertising a certain type of broadband speed, then that is the speed consumers should receive." - Sen. Klobuchar

If enacted into federal law, the legislative proposal will require broadband providers "to give clear information on the actual service speeds consumers will receive," according to a Klobuchar press statement issued by her office on Monday. Dubbed the Broadband Service Consumer Protection Act, the bill directs the the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to "develop uniform performance standards so consumers can more easily compare service offers before purchase and find out if they are receiving the high-speed service they are paying for each month."

The proposal, not assigned a bill number to date, was cosponsored by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Mark Begich (D-AK), and introduced by Senator Klobuchar. The sponsors believe the initiative is a remedy for the freqent practice of internet providers regularly advertising internet service speeds that are often much higher than the actual speed the average consumer receives

"Up To" Broadband Speed Advertising Cited in National Broadband Report
Klobuchar points to the fact there is currently not an industry accepted standard to gauge broadband speed. In her press statement announcing the bill's filing, she cites a FCC statement that "the actual broadband speed consumers experience lags the advertised speed by as much as 50 percent to 80 percent. For example, a consumer may be paying for speeds “up to” 12 Mbps (Megabits per second) but only getting 6 Mbps in actual use."

The FCC statement cited by Senator Klobuchar is found in Chapter 3, "Current State of the Ecosystem" of the Commission's NBP.   As pointed out yesterday by GigaOm's Stacey Higginbotham, the NBP elsewhere calls for the development of a consumer friendly "broadband digital label" process for all broadband services offered by carriers and ISPs.

In Chapter 4 of the Plan, Recommendation 4.5 states the "The FCC should initiate a rulemaking proceeding by issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to determine performance disclosure requirements for broadband."

Who's On First?
The Klobuchar bill is the first legislative effort to implement the consumer protection recommendations of the NBP.  More significantly, the proposed Act is the leading federal effort of the last several years to seeking to provide 'truth in advertising' protection for broadband subscribers, irrespective of their chosen delivery platform. 

Separate legislation filed last year to reform the Universal Service Fund (USF) federal subsidy structure, months ahead of yesterday's actual release of the Plan, will frame the largest single fiscal issue raised by the NBP in terms of public sector broadband financing.

Senators Klobuchar and Begich are both members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, chaired by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).  Both are also members of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet chaired by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA). The full Committee and the Subcommittee have authority over telecommunications issues.

Rockefeller today scheduled, for next Tuesday, March 23, what will sequentially be the first congressional hearing to review the NBP sent to Congress yesterday.

Klobuchar's Focus on Telecom Consumer Protection
In recent sessions of Congress, Senator Klobuchar has been particularly focused on the consumer protection aspects of the telecom sector.  Her Broadband Service Consumer Protection Act is the fourth piece of telecom legislation she has cosponsored over the past 3 years.  

She is best know for filing legislation, in 2007 and 2009, aimed at constraining practices of wireless carriers which have long invoked the ire of consumer advocates.  In turn, Klobuchar on both occasions drove the wireless industry to become apoplectic in its denunciations of her initiatives.   

Additionally, she was a cosponsor the Broadband Data Improvement Act (S. 1492), signed into law in October 2008. In 2009, she was the lead Senate sponsor of the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2009 (S. 1266) introduced first in the House by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA-14).

Broadband Service Consumer Protection Act

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