Free Press Calls for ISP Transparency

After Comcast and NebuAd, FCC must protect users from deceptive practices
Contact Info: 
Jen Howard, Free Press, (202) 265-1490 x22 or (703) 517-6273

WASHINGTON -- Free Press is calling on the Federal Communications Commission to require all broadband providers to disclose any practice that monitors or interferes with their customers' Internet use. In addition to transparent "network management" practices, according to a new filing with the agency, Free Press wants the FCC to require Internet service providers to publicly disclose the minimum broadband speed guaranteed -- not just the maximum potential speed offered.

Two recent high-profile cases of abuse highlight the urgent need for tougher disclosure requirements. Online marketer NebuAd partnered with several broadband providers to secretly monitor and reroute user information into private servers -- until a congressional inquiry exposed the dubious practice. Comcast, the country's largest cable company, secretly blocked users' access to online applications for more than a year before an FCC investigation forced the company to admit to the illegal practice.

In light of these abuses, Free Press is urging the FCC to immediately propose rules that would ensure consumers know what speeds they're actually getting and how their online communications are being handled or mishandled by their broadband providers.

Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, issued the following statement:

"The pervasive lack of transparency in the broadband industry has opened the door to rampant abuse. After recent episodes of secret spying and secret blocking, consumers have good reason to question whether cable and phone companies will respect their privacy and their right to free speech.

"The reality is that consumers have no way of knowing how their Internet usage is being altered, tracked or redirected by their ISPs. Terms of service agreements contain the vaguest language that corporate lawyers can devise -- further stacking the deck against the consumer. It took years to uncover Comcast's illegal behavior and NebuAd's intrusive technology. And it could take years more to uncover the next hidden harm.

"Moving forward, we propose that any service provider that wants to manipulate the connection between Internet users and Internet content has an obligation to disclose what it is doing. Without industry-wide transparency, Internet users are likely to blame service disruptions on their computers or themselves rather than where it belongs -- on their ISP.

"This transparency also means more truth in broadband billing. It is downright deceptive that some broadband providers are prominently advertising super-fast networks that don't match up with the actual services delivered. The FCC must ensure that consumers know what kind of service they are really buying."

Read Free Press' filing:

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good