Beyond Frustrated: The Sweeping Consumer Harms as a Result of ISP Disputes

Beyond Frustrated: The Sweeping Consumer Harms as a Result of ISP Disputes

 

On Wednesday, the Open Technology Institute at New America released Beyond Frustrated: The Sweeping Consumer Harms as a Result of ISP Disputes, a policy brief about the significant harm suffered by millions of American broadband customers who are “beyond frustrated”— a direct quote from a customer service forum that has been inundated with complaints about degraded service. The paper paints a grim picture of the customer experience over the past two years, revealing that various Internet providers have been using their customers as pawns in financial disputes over who pays for what on the Internet.

 

 

This report comes in the wake of Measurement Lab’s (M-Lab) recent technical report, ISP Interconnection and its Impact on Consumer Internet Performance, which revealed that consumer access and performance are directly and dramatically affected by the business relationships and disputes among interconnecting Internet Service Providers, transit providers, and content providers.

The report comes two days after President Obama asked the FCC to examine interconnection points as it considers new rules to preserve the open Internet. The President also called on the FCC to reclassify consumer broadband services under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. OTI supports the President’s statement and has repeatedly urged the FCC to consider the wide range of harms that result from ISPs’ gatekeeper power over their retail broadband customers. The new report identifies many instances of such harms that occur when ISPs permit severe, months-long congestion on their retail networks during business negotiations with content and transit providers.

From Sarah J. Morris, Senior Policy Counsel for New America’s Open Technology Institute:

“The consumer experience described in the report is a frustratingly familiar one for America’s broadband Internet customers, who are often met with unexplained delays, failures of content to load, and other serious lapses in the service for which they are often paying dearly. The saying goes, ‘you get what you paid for;’ but when it comes to the Internet services offered by U.S. cable and telephone companies, that’s clearly not the case. In addition to alreadypaying higher prices and receiving slower service than customers in many other countries, U.S. broadband subscribers are also being used as pawns in the ISPs’ business disputes, which can suddenly render their Internet service effectively unusable.

“These disputes disrupt a wide range of online activity. Businesses can’t reach their customers. Telecommuters can’t connect to their jobs. Doctors can’t consult with patients via telemedicine programs. Online video subscribers can’t enjoy the services they paid for. Even if you haven’t heard of the companies involved in these disputes, you are likely impacted by the disputes in a significant way.“

“It’s time for the FCC to act quickly to address these ongoing harms to consumers. As part of the FCC’s open Internet proceeding, OTI has recommended a ban on ISPs charging access tolls to content companies and major transit providers that the ISPs’ end users want to access. This report underscores the need for even more extensive action by the FCC, including active oversight of interconnection disputes themselves and the impact of those disputes on consumer broadband access. It’s the FCC’s job to ensure that when ISPs and Internet companies are fighting, consumers aren’t caught in the crossfire.”