Imagine that you're in the market for a new car - but in a different marketplace than the one we're all familiar with. In this parallel universe, fuel efficiency is not described in miles per gallon, but in measure called "miles per blodget" that you pretend to understand, but don't. The car you're interested in is advertised as getting "super mileage" of "up to 50 miles per blodget," without any exact mileage number. And you've heard from friends and news reports that no one has actually measured whether this car, or any car on the market, gets the mileage that it claims.
That's the situation facing many consumers who are trying to choose a new broadband service. As the FCC found in a 2010 survey, 80 percent of Americans with broadband don’t know what speed they’re getting. It’s a safe bet that most of us don’t know what a given number of megabits-per-second translates into in terms of our own online experience. And ads that promise “blazing fast” speeds aren’t giving consumers precise information to help them make comparative choices.
Internet service providers have recognized this problem and have taken some good steps to help educate their customers about the services they offer. Today, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau of the FCC issued a Public Notice that builds on their work to open a national discussion on the “need for speed.” We’re asking some basic questions: What internet speeds, and what other factors in broadband performance, are important to consumers? How do consumers’ broadband needs vary depending on the applications they want to use, from email to gaming? And how can that information best be made clear and easy to understand?
For the last year, the FCC has been working with a collaborative group of industry representatives, as well as consumer groups, to figure out how to make the market for broadband service more transparent in a consumer-friendly way. We’ve worked together to design the first national, scientific test of broadband speed to measure exactly what level of broadband service consumers are getting in homes across the country, and are busy analyzing the results of that test, which will be publicly released. Now we’re also studying how to ensure that consumers have better information on exactly what speed and performance levels they should shop for – and we’re asking for your help. We’re inviting comments from internet service providers, consumer groups, the technology community, and any interested members of the public.
Our hope is to ensure that consumers have the information they need to choose the broadband service that’s right for them, and avoid buying a service that’s either too slow or costs more than they need to pay. Our Bureau’s Public Notice is a first important step toward making the choice of broadband service as simple as finding an energy-efficient appliance, buying nutritious food, or, for that matter, shopping for a fuel-efficient car.