The Regulatory Mix, TMI’s daily blog of regulatory activities, is a snapshot of PUC, FCC, legislative, and occasionally court, issues that our regulatory monitoring team uncovers each day. Depending on their significance, some items may be the subject of a TMI Regulatory Bulletin.
Federal Trade Commission
The FTC announced it had entered into a Stipulated Order with TracFone under which TracFone will pay $40 million to settle charges that it deceived consumers about its unlimited data plans. The money will be used for consumer refunds which will be paid to consumers whose data service was slowed or cut off. TracFone is prohibited from making further deceptive advertising claims about its mobile data plans and must clearly and conspicuously disclose any limits on the speed or quantity of its data service. TracFone will also file certain compliance reports and keep certain specified records for as long as ten years.
In its original complaint, the FCC alleged that since 2009 TracFone has advertised prepaid monthly mobile plans but either slowed down (throttled) or cut off consumers’ mobile data after they used more than certain fixed limits in a 30-day period. According to the FTC, TracFone varied its data limits, but generally slowed data service when a customer used one to three gigabytes and suspended data service at four to five gigabytes. Beginning in September 2013, TracFone began to make some disclosure of its throttling practices for its “unlimited” programs, but, according to the FTC’s complaint, those disclosures were often not clear and conspicuous. In many cases, the disclosures were in very small print or on the back of packages or cards where consumers were likely to miss them.
At its January 29, 2015, Open Meeting, the FCC adopted its 2015 Broadband Progress Report and an associated Notice of Inquiry. The report concludes that broadband deployment in the United States – especially in rural areas – is failing to keep pace with today’s advanced, high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video offerings. The FCC said that the 4 Mbps/1 Mbps standard set in 2010 is dated and inadequate for evaluating whether advanced broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a timely way. Accordingly, it updated its broadband benchmark speeds to 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads. Using this updated service benchmark, the 2015 report found that 55 million Americans (17% of the population) lack access to advanced broadband. Moreover, a significant digital divide remains between urban and rural America: over half of all rural Americans lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps service. The divide is greater on Tribal lands and in U.S. territories, where nearly 2/3 of residents lack access to today’s speeds. Additionally, 35% of schools across the nation still lack access to fiber networks capable of delivering the advanced broadband required to support today’s digital-learning tools. Read more here.
The Notice of Inquiry seeks comment on what additional steps the FCC can take to accelerate broadband deployment.
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