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Consumer Watchdog Asks FCC to Require Cell Phone Companies to Disclose Data Speeds; Group Cites Widespread Misleading ‘4G’ Claims

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Thu, Aug 23, 2012 at 10:53 am

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Consumer Watchdog Asks FCC to Require Cell Phone Companies to Disclose Data Speeds; Group Cites Widespread Misleading ‘4G’ Claims

WASHINGTON D.C. — Citing deceptive and confusing advertising by mobile phone companies concerning data speeds, Consumer Watchdog today petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to require wireless carriers to disclose actual network data speeds.

The group told the FCC that technical speed standards for “4G” mobile technology are universally ignored by U.S. cell phone companies, which now promise “faster, 4G” speeds in virtually every advertisement, “either without actually making improvements to existing products and services or without disclosing the meaning of ‘faster.’”

“When it comes to advertising data speed, the cell phone marketplace is like the Wild West. We need the FCC to step up to its role of sheriff and set standards so people can comparison shop without being ripped off and then locked into a two year contract,” said Harvey Rosenfield, founder of Consumer Watchdog and one of the lawyers filing the petition. “The rules we propose will lasso the companies and hold them accountable for the information they are putting out there.”

The petition points to AT&T’s advertising of the iPhone 4S as an example of 4G/data speed marketplace abuse. The petition states:

“In January 2012, AT&T began marketing the iPhone 4S as being a 4G phone, even though Apple represents it as 3G — a fact that was reflected on the phone itself: when connected to the AT&T network, a ‘3G’ icon appeared on the screen. Then, in March 2012, the iPhone’s software was suddenly updated so the screen displayed a ‘4G’ icon. Nothing else about the phone or AT&T’s network had changed, yet AT&T immediately began an advertising campaign flaunting the phone’s improved, faster 4G speeds.”

“AT&T is constantly trying to fool people about having the latest technology. No consumer should be forced to rely solely on claims from a repeat corporate offender like AT&T when buying a new smartphone. The bottom line is that consumers need reliable information about mobile broadband performance,” said Laura Antonini, staff attorney for Consumer Watchdog.

The petition calls upon the FCC to adopt rules that would require wireless carriers to provide the following disclosures in advertisements making claims about data speed:

- Average data speeds that subscribers experience while using the advertised network or device within the city or area where such advertisement appears; and
- National average data speeds that subscribers experience while using the advertised network or device; and
- Average data speeds supporting any speed comparison made in the advertisement.

Additionally, the proposed rule should require wireless carriers to provide, at any point of sale, consumers with access to the following information:

- For every network that a wireless carrier operates, average data speeds that subscribers experience while using the network within each city or area covered by the network; and
- For every network that a wireless carrier operates, national average data speeds that subscribers experience while using the network; and
- For every mobile broadband device that a wireless carrier sells, average data speeds that subscribers experience while using the device within each city or area covered by the network; and
- For every mobile broadband device that a wireless carrier sells, national average data speeds that subscribers experience while using the device.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s Petition for Rulemaking with exhibits here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/cwd_petition_for_rulemaking_8-22-12.pdf

Read just the petition here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/cwd_fcc_brief_8-22-12.pdf

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Visit our website at: www.ConsumerWatchdog.org

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 349 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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