February 24, 2011 1:27 PM
Let's ask Dr. Dre
Dr. Dre? . . .
"Rain Man", Eminem (with Dr. Dre), 2004
The truth is that, when it comes to the "transparency" disclosure rules in the FCC's Open Internet Order (see Section 8.3, App. A, p. 88), the good Doctor could probably provide as much useful information to consumers as any network provider will be able to offer--especially with respect to mobile wireless broadband performance. Hard to believe . . . but true.
At first glance, the "transparency" disclosure requirement seems like the most reasonable "net neutrality" rule . . . and the one most likely to actually help consumers. In fact, the rule seemed so rational that it was the only net neutrality rule that the FCC deemed reasonable to apply to both mobile wireless and wireline broadband ISPs in equal measure. And, who could blame the Commission? After all, they were only following the requests of the largest manufacturers of smartphones, smartphone operating systems, and infrastructure equipment.
The Information Technology Industry Council ("ITIC"), which represents (among others) Apple, Nokia Siemens, Google, Microsoft, and RIM, even told the FCC that,
mobile wireless BBIA [broadband Internet access] service providers should be required to comply with robust disclosure requirements similar to those that should apply to wireline BBIA service providers. These rules should require the disclosure of sufficient information to enable consumers . . . to make informed choices regarding use of the BBIA service offered by the mobile wireless provider.
ITIC PN Comments at 8 (emphasis added). The FCC listened, and required all broadband Internet access service providers to "disclose accurate information [regarding service performance, terms, and characteristics] sufficient for consumers to make informed choices regarding the use of such services . . . ." Open Internet Order, App. A, p.88 (new Section 8.3 of FCC rules).
But, who's to say, what's fair to say, and what not to say? Personally, I would've thought that information was self-evident . . . until I read a very interesting article at Ars Technica ("Ars"), comparing iPhone service performance in Chicago on the AT&T and Verizon wireless networks.
Before, I explain the significance of this article, let me explain that I am NOT taking sides for either carrier. I know that there are tech reviews that argue for the merits of Verizon in some places, and AT&T in others--even nationwide.
The Ars test, though, got "behind the bars" and was able to discern that certain "bellweather" indicators--like number of bars, and speed tests were not always indicative of actual performance. The results of the Ars test were that, on average--for the criteria tested (speed, large file app download, and Youtube video download)--AT&T's network out-performed Verizon's for the iPhone device. However, if you look at the individual data sets, there is a lot of variability even on the same network within the city of Chicago. So, depending on which areas you spend most of your time, your experience might be different than the results of the article suggest.
Interestingly, the article observes that,
the Speedtest results may say one thing, but they don't always translate to real-world network performance. Even in the cases where the Verizon iPhone got a faster download speed than the AT&T iPhone, the AT&T app download took noticeably less time than the same app download on Verizon--in one case, where AT&T was measured via Speedtest as slower (UIC test), the download time on AT&T was almost half that of Verizon.What can wireless consumers learn from this "real world" performance test regarding information sufficient to allow them to make informed choices about their mobile wireless broadband service? Most importantly, that wireless networks will never have uniform performance, so--as Ars also notes, "when it comes to cell signal and quality . . . where you live and work and how the network is in your area trumps anything you'll read in any review."
This is why it's probably unreasonable for the FCC to require carriers to provide consumers with information that is likely to be misleading. Even if the carrier believes its performance information to be generally correct, it will never be accurate for any given customer, because accurate performance information is outside of the network provider's control.
But, does this fact render the "transparency" rule completely worthless? Well . . . maybe . . . at least for wireless carriers. Although it's certainly in consumers' interest to have accurate information about every aspect of their service within the network provider's control, most wireless carriers already disclose this information as part of their voluntary compliance with the CTIA Consumer Code.
So, for the most valuable "disclosure" information--accurate network performance--who's to say what's fair to say, and what not to say? For now, you might as well ask Dr. Dre . . .