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June 28, 2011

Proposed Legislation Aims to Educate Consumers about Communications Provider Offerings

By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor


The buzz surrounding communications is heavily centered on 4G technology, but do consumers really understand what that means? Too often, the consumer must rely solely on the information offered by the communications provider to make an educated decision; but that decision is often based on biased information. 


One lawmaker is hoping to change this approach, according to this ARS Technica report. A new law has been proposed by Anna Eshoo (D-CA (News - Alert)) that would establish guidelines for understanding 4G speed and ensuring consumers have all the information necessary to make an informed decision. While the legislation appears to be in support of consumer rights; it could also be a good thing for the communications provider.

If this legislation were to pass, communications providers who offer advanced mobile broadband service directly to a consumer must disclose specific details about their plans. The “Next Generation Wireless Disclosure Act” would require at least four guarantees:

1.      The minimum transmit and receive data rates guaranteed by the communications provider for Internet protocol packets to and from on-network hosts for service must be expressed in megabits per second. The minimum data rate is only defined as guaranteed if it was determined to be available for a percentage of time within the calendar month.

2.      The FCC (News - Alert) would establish a reliability rating for the services delivered by the communications provider. This rating would be based on data session start success percentage and the data session completion success percentage of the plan.

3.      When services offered by the communications provider are priced according to volume of data, the price of the plan must be based on the volume of data sent or received. For a flat rate plan, this rate must include a detailed description of any limits on the use of the service over such time period, according to volume transferred or received or otherwise.

4.      The FCC’s net neutrality rules will be duplicated here, requiring that communications providers offer transparency.

Prepaid services offered by a communications provider can be a little trick in light of this legislation. The bill does exempt “off the shelf” transactions when a customer purchases a device that allows access to a specified quantity of prepaid wireless mobile broadband service, and when the consumer’s experience with the seller would demonstrate that the seller does not have expertise regarding terms and services. 

The FCC currently has 180 days to publish the provisions and standards within this legislation, if it were to pass. The agency would then be required to conduct a complete study to evaluate the advanced wireless broadband speeds in the U.S. provided by the 10 largest communications providers. Of course, it is these providers who are unhappy with the proposed legislation, which aims to tie their hands in a competitive landscape.


Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMCnet and has also written for eastbiz.com. To read more of Susan’s articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jamie Epstein




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