FTC to Investigate ISP Broadband Speed Claims

Steve Javors
WASHINGTON — According to Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras, the agency is going to begin investigating the speed claims of Internet service providers’ broadband networks.

The FTC is looking to hold ISPs accountable for any false or deceptive representations to consumers concerning the speeds of the networks companies advertise their customers as receiving.

The FTC’s Division of Marketing Practices assistant director Lisa Hone told SFGate that she thinks that “speed will be one of the primary issues that will be addressed” during the FTC’s two-day workshop examining Internet business practices in Aspen, Colo., later this week.

Consumer advocates have honed in on the “up to” remarks ISPs include in commercials, as in, for the monthly fee, customers can access broadband speeds “up to” a certain number. This creates a certain expectation of maximum service, but in reality, customers might be getting speeds far slower and the company is not held accountable, advocacy groups argue.

“Are broadband providers providing what they say, and how can their subscribers and regulatory authorities determine whether or not they are providing what they say they are providing?” Hone asked.

Tracking the ISP’s claims of network speed for the end user can be a complicated issue Jacqui Cheng of ARSTechnica.com said. Consumer broadband speed can be complicated by a number of factors, including the number of computers sharing the same access point, distance from the ISP’s strongest pipes and one’s own home network.

University of Colorado professor Philip Weiser said the FTC’s first step should be to “come up with some understandable set of metrics, average speeds, not exact promises,” he told SFGate.com.