Tag: "consumer protections"

Posted November 4, 2016 by lgonzalez

Consumers should be able to expect a certain amount of privacy and recent rules adopted by the FCC are a step in the right direction. That step has also revealed some key differences between profit-driven national Internet service providers, smaller ISPs, and municipal networks. The different attitudes correspond with the different cultures, proving once again that small ISPs and munis have more than just profit in mind.

On October 27th, the FCC adopted an Order to allow ISP customers to determine how their data will be collected and used. According to the FCC, they made the decision in response to public comments about the concern for personal data protection.

The New Rules

Over the past few years, consumers have become savvy to the fact that ISPs have access to personal data and that they often sell that data to other companies for marketing purposes. Under Section 222 of Title II of the Communications Act, telecommunications carriers are bound to protect their subscribers’ private information. Because those rule are designed to change as technology changes, says the FCC and Congress, this same authority applies to private data collected by ISPs. 

The FCC decided to divide the permission of use of personal information based on type, categorizing information into “sensitive” and “non-sensitive.”

Sensitive information will require ISPs to obtain “opt-in” consent from subscribers, which will allow them to use and and share this type of information:

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  • Precise geo-location 
  • Children’s information
  • Health information 
  • Financial information
  • Social Security numbers
  • Web browsing history
  • App usage history
  • The content of communication 

Non-sensitive information would include all other information and customers would need to "opt-out" in order to prevent their ISPs from collecting such data. Examples of non-sensitive personal information include service tier information.

The new rules also require providers to follow “up-to-date and relevant industry best practices” in reference to managing security...

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Posted June 18, 2016 by lgonzalez

Depending on where you live, you may be able to choose between two or three big name ISPs. No matter which one you ultimately select, you might face some difficulty obtaining the kind of service you deserve. If you know what to expect, it’s easier to prepare yourself and, in the event you DO have a choice, pick the one that’s right for you.

BroadbandSearch has likened transparency in the telecommunications industry to nutrition information on food packaging. They have produced a set of “Nutrition Labels” for your Internet access diet.

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They describe the project:

We believe that anything that makes buying broadband Internet service easier is a good thing, and for that reason we've created these ready-made broadband nutrition labels to help you choose from the biggest providers in the nation. 

Here is Comcast’s Xfinity label, a big provider in our Minneapolis area.

Of course, rates from Xfinity and other providers vary from place to place and they offer introductory deals that depend on a number of factors. For more on how BroadbandSearch obtained their data, check out their Sources page.

Now that the FCC’s network neutrality rules have been challenged and upheld in the Appellate Court, providers are required to be more transparent. These labels can help them share the information that subscribers need to make informed decisions. Check out the complete set at BroadbandSearch.

Posted August 22, 2015 by lgonzalez

Windstream has the distinction of being one of the worst providers we have ever covered from consumers' perspective, but in rural areas many people have little or no choice. The latest Windstream debacle involves a Nebraska farmer, an outrageous price quote, and a local company that is taking on the project for about one-ninth of Windstream's estimate.

Ars Technica recently introduced us to Nelson Schneider, CTO of the Norman R. Schneider Family Trust Farm in Ceresco, Nebraska. Like many other farms today, the Schneider business needs fast, reliable connections for a variety of reasons including checking ever changing grain prices. Schneider had Windstream's DSL for $80 per month, but his promised speeds of 1.5 Mbps were clocked at 512 Kbps download and 256 Kbps upload, making business online impossible.

When he attempted to take advantage of the business class speeds Windstream advertised online, the company dismissed him. Schneider had to file a complaint for false advertising with the FCC just to get Windstream to negotiate. He wanted fiber, was willing to pay for construction costs, and considered it an investment in the vitality of the farm. 

Windstream told him it would cost Schneider $383,500 (gulp) to install 4.5 miles of fiber from his property to its facilities in town. Even though Windstream's fiber network map shows they run fiber about one-half mile away, they insisted he would need to connect to the facility farther away. When he asked about connecting to this closer line, Windstream refused to connect him. The company would not provide a reason when Ars asked for a reason.

Even though Schneider was prepared to pay thousands of dollars to bring fiber to his farm, such a preposterous quote and Windstream's refusal to commit to anything higher than 10 Mbps symmetrical were too much. He contacted Northeast Nebraska Telephone Company when he learned that they had been connecting local farms with fiber. Soon an NNTC executive visited the farm and the two talked about the possibilities. The final estimate was $42,000 or about one-ninth what Windstream demanded and now NNTC is working with Schneider to make the project easier:

Northeast agreed to let Schneider pay...

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Posted October 21, 2013 by christopher

Earlier this year, Mark Creekmore transitioned from a frustrated DSL customer to a champion for better Internet access in Georgia. A concerned citizen and tech consultant, Mark joins us for the latest Community Broadband Bits podcast. He discusses his history with Windstream and the steps he went through to improve his Internet access.

Along with this interview, you can read a how-to guide he wrote on DSL Reports.

Mark documented the times his connection speeds fell, his calls to tech support, and their inability to deliver what they promised. Finally, he helped the CBS Atlanta affiliate to cover Windstream's failure to deliver promised services.

We became aware of Mark as he became aware of Windstream's efforts to revoke local authority from local governments to build networks that would deliver the services that Windstream would not. Read our coverage of those legislative fights from 2013 and 2012.

Read the transcript of our conversation here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Mudhoney for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted June 19, 2013 by lgonzalez

Victims of Sandy are still recovering from the killer storm that ripped through the east coast last year. Two places hardest hit by the "Frankenstorm" were Fire Island, New York and the Barrier Island in New Jersey. In addition to homes and property, residents lost phone and Internet communications when telephone wires went down. They are still waiting to be reconnected.

Our readers know about the huge fight that has embroiled consumer advocates and the leading telephone providers in the past few years. AT&T and Verizon seek deregulation to escape the "carrier of last resort" obligation that requires maintenance of traditional copper lines for telephone service. AT&T and Verizon want to shed that responsibility in favor of wireless service that is less expensive to maintain, even though it does not support the range of uses today's copper networks do. 

Verizon is the incumbent telephone provider in Fire Island and Barrier Island but decided it will not repair damaged lines. It wants to instead deploy its inferior Voice Link wireless service on the island.

The Voice Link technology basically attaches to your house and uses Verizon's cellular network to connect the telephones in your home. Homeowners can continue to use their home phones, but the quality tends to be worse than on a proper wired telephone network. 

Under federal law,  telephone providers are obligated to replace or repair downed copper lines unless they substitute with a "line improvement," such as fiber-optic lines. Voice Link cannot be described as a "line improvement" - the only benefit it provides is that it costs Verizon less to build and maintain. 

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Jodie Griffin from Public Knowledge recently pointed out some of the many shortcomings of Voice Link, as revealed on Verizon's own Terms of Service. The people most harmed by this scaled back service include the people who, in one way or another, are most vulnerable. Harold Feld, also...

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Posted May 10, 2013 by lgonzalez

StopTheCap! reports there are three bills in the Connecticut General Assembly that, if passed, will leave little or no protections for customers of plain old telephone service who encounter difficulties with service. AT&T and ALEC back these bills for the third year in a row.

Such bills are not new to our readers who often see our reports on large corporate providers that use state legislators as vehicles to shed regulations. Phil Dampier from StopThe Cap! summarizes all three bills:

HB 6401: House Bill 6401 strips the Public Utilities Review Authority (PURA) of their ability to regulate Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone services. An emerging market, this bill creates deregulation for the sake of deregulation.

HB 6402: House Bill 6402 eliminates the right of regulators to oversee AT&T to make sure it has some form of accountability to the public. The section on annual audits has been gutted, making it impossible to protect the public from rate-fixing. More importantly, it includes a provision to allow AT&T to end service to any customer it wants upon 30 days’ written notice. [PDF of the Nonpartisan Bill Summary available from the Connecticut General Assembly]

SB 888: Senate Bill 888 has an ALEC-drafted provision that allows cell phone towers to be built on public lands on a presumption that the will of telecommunications companies is in the interest of the public good.

As we saw in Kentucky, concerned citizen groups will not take...

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Posted April 30, 2013 by lgonzalez

Earlier this year we reported on SB 88 in the Kentucky legislature. The bill, sponsored by Republican Senator Paul Hornback and authored by AT&T, would have eliminated the "carrier of last resort" requirement and reduced consumer protections. A similar bill in 2011 was also defeated by a coalition of public interest groups.

This is one of a series of bills crafted by AT&T and ALEC that has been explained in great depth by the National Regulatory Research Institute in their 2012 review [pdf] as well as by Bruce Kushnick in this report [pdf].

Advocates on the side of consumers, including ILSR, were happy to see the bill defeated in the House. Though AT&T will undoubtedly be back again in future years, this victory shows the massive corporate carriers are vulnerable. In addition to blocking harmful deregulation, this is an example of how an organized coalition can protect the public interest.

I spoke with Mimi Pickering, Director of the Appalshop Community Media Initiative in Whitesburg, Kentucky. She described how local groups defeated the bill with the facts. Appalshop teamed up with nonprofit Kentucky Resources Council (KRC), AARP Kentucky, the AFL-CIO, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and several other groups. The coalition explained the complexities of the proposal and spelled out what could happen to landline service without consumer protections.

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KRC is an environmental advocacy group that helped stop SB 88 by providing critical research to educate the public and lawmakers. In Episode #44 of our podcast, Pickering and...

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Posted April 30, 2013 by christopher

Episode #44 of our Community Broadband Bits podcast expands on our story exploring a major victory over bad AT&T-driven legislation in Kentucky. We welcome Mimi Pickering of Appalshop and Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council.

We discuss why the AT&T-authored bill to gut consumer protections was bad for Kentucky and how a terrific coalition of public interest groups, unions, and others were able to protect the public interest. This was the second time they have defeated a similar bill, offering important lessons to those of us in different states that have not yet abandoned basic consumer protections for the telephone just because AT&T told our legislature they were unnecessary.

Read the transcript from our discussion here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 36 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Mount Carmel for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted February 22, 2013 by lgonzalez

Last year, we reported on the failed SB 135, which would have eliminated the "carrier of last resort" requirement in the state. The bill, sponsored by Republican Senator Paul Hornback would have let AT&T decide who could receive basic telephone service and would have limited consumer protections.

Last year's bill did not become law, but a progeny, SB 88, has already passed in the Kentucky Senate and was received in the House on February 15th. (We'd like to report what committee will hear it first but the Kentucky Legislative web has not yet published that information.) Senator Hornback is again the chief author of the bill, crafted by AT&T and its ALEC pals.

The Kentucky Resources Council (KRC) provides an analysis of SB 88 and a prognosis on how it would affect Kentuckians. KRC must be feeling deja vu, as are many organizations looking out for rural dwellers who depend on their landlines. These bills continue to be introduced year after year as large telecommunications companies spend millions of lobbying dollars, also year after year.

WMMT, Mountain Community Radio in Whitesburg, Kentucky, recently reported on the legislation. Sylvia Ryerson spoke with Tom Fitzgerald from KRC, who discussed the analysis. From KRC's report on the legislation:

At potential risk is the opportunity for existing and new customers, to obtain stand-along basic telephone services from the incumbent telephone utility, or “Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS)” as it is called. Those most adversely affected by this loss of access to basic, stand-alone, telephone service are those least able to obtain affordable and reliable alternatives – those who live in rural, lower density areas, and the poor in dense, urbanized areas who have no affordable alternative priced as low as POTS.

...

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