The FCC is currently in the middle of a fight between internet providers and state regulators over ads for internet service. In short, the telecoms industry wants to use an FCC rule about internet speeds claimed in adverts — namely that advertising a “maximum” speed that isn’t really achievable isn’t false advertising — to protect itself from lawsuits from individual US states. Two industry groups have already filed a petition with the FCC to this effect.
As you’d expect, states aren’t wild about giving up consumer protection powers to a decidedly non-consumer-friendly FCC, and 35 states have banded together to lobby the FCC to ignore the industry petition. The list of states backing the comment to the FCC serves a useful secondary purpose: giving us an idea of which state governments actually give a crap about internet companies screwing over consumers.
The original petition was filed on May 15th by two industry groups, US Telecom and the Internet & Television Association. The petition calls for the FCC to issue a ruling stating that the current practice of advertising speeds “up to” a certain threshold is OK. Internet companies are seeking that ruling from the FCC because state Attorneys General have started investigating ISPs for false advertising. Most notably, NY state AG Eric Schneiderman went after Spectrum back in February for advertising broadband speeds well under what were actually delivered.
In short, the telcos are claiming that because lawsuits like those filed by New York State use real internet speed tests that test actual download speed, rather than a hypothetical line speed, they’re unfair and too picky. The telcos have 10% of a point — there is an old agreement with the FCC that outlines a testing methodology for ISPs to use, which is extremely favorable to ISPs — but it’s not really the point.
Individual states want to assert their right to enforce consumer protections, including that ISPs provide the kind of internet service that they advertise. “Like others providing goods and services to consumers in our states, providers of broadband Internet service must be truthful in their advertisements,” the AGs’ letter to the FCC reads. It goes on to outline how an FCC ruling to pre-empt state action would likely be a constitutional violation.
The full list of state AGs that signed the comment to the FCC is below. Check if yours is on there, and if not, it’s time to break out the angry letters.
- DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
- NEW MEXICO
- NEW YORK
- NORTH CAROLINA
- RHODE ISLAND
- SOUTH DAKOTA
- WEST VIRGINIA