The Consumer Council today launched its Campaign for Broadband Nutrition Labeling, aimed at getting internet service providers (ISPs) to be truthful in the information they provide to consumers.
The Council is calling on ISPs to provide a Broadband Disclosure Statement which is a summary of important or essential information which can assist consumers to make an informed decision.
The statement should not only provide essential information for consumers to make informed choices, but also allow them to compare services between various ISPs in the market. The Broadband Disclosure Statement proposed by the Consumer Council involves 5 basic components: speed variation; reliability; service limits and conditions; pricing information and; other information.
The need for a Broadband Disclosure Statement is based on consumer complaints and the result of consumer surveys on broadband internet services.
One of the problems faced by consumers of internet services is misleading advertisements. A good example is when internet speeds are commonly mis-advertised, with “up to” speeds being claimed that do not represent anything like the actual average speeds that users experience in practice. Consumers are also confused by download caps, fair usage policies and other terms and conditions that are disclosed only in the “small print” of their agreements with their ISPs, if at all.
Two important components of the disclosure statement are speed variation and reliability. ISPs need to disclose speed variation of a service so that consumers know what kind of speeds they will get during peak and off-peak times. Reliability is an important requirement whereby ISPs will provide a certain level of service guarantee. ISPs should specify a minimum guaranteed service level, say 90%. If service is not available or does not meet the guaranteed levels of service, then consumer should be compensated through data and, or time credits to their account.
Another component that the Consumer Council is calling on ISPs to provide is full disclosures on is pricing. The Council has come across instances where ISP advertisements do not provide full pricing information. In most instances ISPs simply advertised the monthly bill (e.g $35) and leave out other costs that consumers incur such as for installation, equipment, security deposit, etc. Pricing should also include cost of a service after an introductory or promotional offer has ended and cost of data reloads.
As part of the campaign the Council is publishing an information sheet that includes an example of a Broadband Disclosure Statement. Apart from educating consumers on what such a statement is, the information sheet will also assist and mobilize consumers to demand better disclosures from their ISP. In fact it should be emphasized that the campaign will mobilize consumers to take action and demand disclosures from their internet service providers. The Council hopes that the campaign will also prompt policymakers to establish broadband nutrition labeling or information standards for ISPs to abide by.