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FCC Clarifies Enhanced Transparency

The FCC has issued further "clarification" of its enhanced transparency rules under its 2105 Open Internet order, including that cable ops and others don't have to kill more trees to inform customers about their broadband service.

Those enhanced rules were the more specific directions the FCC gave to ISPs about what network management practices and performance characteristics, as well as service terms and conditions--they must disclose to consumers to help them make "informed choices."

In a public notice issued May 19, the FCC said it was only clarifying, and that its enhanced rules were identical to the ones upheld by a previous court, only, well, enhanced, which meant requiring more specificity about all the above practices and terms, including actual download and upload speeds, latency and packet loss, but no longer having to disclose the frequency of congestion.

The FCC is facing a court challenge to that 2015 Open Internet order.

In the May 19 notice, the FCC clarified that when it said "broadband providers must actually disclose information required for consumers to make an “informed choice” regarding the purchase or use of broadband services at the point of sale. It is not sufficient for broadband providers simply to provide a link to their disclosures," it did not mean that they had to print out all the information and have it available at the point of sale, as some carriers had feared. They argued that having to print hard copies of all disclosures would be a burden, and that for wireless carriers in particular, trying to fit all the info on packaging would be an unreasonable expectation.

"[F]or disclosures made through such links to be sufficient under the Transparency Rule," the FCC said, "BIAS [broadband Internet access service] providers must ensure that consumers actually receive the information necessary to make informed decisions prior to making a final purchasing decision at all potential points of sale, including in a store, over the phone, and online." 

It also clarified that fixed broadband providers must disclose performance characteristics for each service, i.e. DSL, cable, fiber, or satellite, and for each service tier (60 Mbps down/10 up, for example) given that they market their services as a combination of technology and tier.

The notice also clarifies what the FCC meant in the 2015 order when it required all providers, fixed and wireless, to disclose both expected and actual speeds, latency and packet loss.

American Cable Association President Matthew Polka liked what he saw.

"ACA believes that in crafting the just-released Open Internet Transparency Rule Guidance on disclosing network performance metrics, FCC officials have properly balanced the interests of consumers and smaller Internet Service Providers (ISPs)," he sid in a statement.

ACA had been worried the enhanced performance obligation reporting would unduly burden his smaller members. "The new guidance addresses that concern by giving smaller ISPs additional and reasonable direction on complying with the new packet loss and geographic granularity requirements and by reiterating that smaller ISPs can continue to follow the 2011 Guidance as to acceptable methodologies to measure and disclose actual network performance," he said.