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Internet Service: Would You Switch – and Why?

December 6th, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

 If you’re like many Americans, you may be wondering whether you should keep the Internet service you have in your home. If you have more than one broadband provider in your area, you may be getting a barrage of advertising encouraging you to switch from your current provider to another one. Should you switch – and if so, why?

At the FCC, we’ve done a representative national survey to find out how satisfied consumers are with their Internet service and what goes into the decision to switch or stick with an ISP. We’re releasing the results of that survey today. It shows that Americans are largely pleased with their Internet service, but have some cause for dissatisfaction – and face obstacles that make it hard for them to switch ISPs.

Our survey found that 38 percent of Internet users have changed service providers in the last three years, more than half of them for a reason other than changing residences. The majority of Internet users seem to be satisfied with their service; most people who haven’t switched say they haven’t even considered it seriously. Still, 38 percent is a significant number, and one that deserves further exploration.

What makes people want to change providers? Two things: Price and performance. Nearly a quarter of home Internet users are dissatisfied with the price they pay for service, and 47 percent of those who switched ISPs said price was a major reason. Even more – 49 percent – said that a major reason they switched was to get a faster or higher performance Internet connection.

Moreover, the survey showed that a sizeable number of people would consider switching ISPs if it was easier to do. They’re deterred not only by the hassle, but by financial considerations – the need to put down a new deposit, pay a set-up or installation fee, or pay an early termination fee. Early termination fees are currently less common for ISPs than for cell-phone service, but they’re still a factor.

This survey, together with earlier data we’ve reported, underscores how much consumers need clear information to help them make smart choices about Internet service. Speed is a major factor that leads people to switch ISPs – but how many of us really understand what speed we’re getting? We previously reported that 80 percent of Americans don’t know their broadband speed, and today’s survey found that most say their monthly bills aren’t clear about speed either. If ISPs are going to compete on speed – which will be good for consumers and good for the country’s broadband infrastructure – then consumers need better information on what speed they need and what speeds they’re getting.

The same is true of price and fees. We’ve found previously that many cell-phone customers don’t know the early termination fees that they’re subject to. As some ISPs start instituting these fees as well, they need to ensure that consumers are fully informed and can factor these fees into their decisions.

Competition among ISPs, like competition in other markets, is good for consumers and good for service providers. And clear information will help consumers make the smart choices that allow competition to work.

We’re interested in your own experience: Have you switched ISPs, or thought about doing so? Post a comment to let us know your views.

(This is cross-posted on the Official FCC Blog.)

Pam Gregory and Jamal Mazrui to Lead Accessibility and Innovation Initiative

October 15th, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

By Joel Gurin and Karen Peltz Strauss

We are very pleased to announce that Pam Gregory will be the Director, and Jamal Mazrui will be the Deputy Director, of the Commission’s new Accessibility and Innovation Initiative. Chairman Genachowski launched the initiative at a joint White House/ FCC/Department of Commerce event in July, consistent with a recommendation in the National Broadband Plan.

The mission of the Accessibility and Innovation Initiative is to promote collaborative problem-solving among stakeholders to ensure that people with disabilities reap the full benefits of communications technology. We will use many tools to achieve this objective, including the Chairman’s Award, Accessibility and Innovation challenges, workshops, field events, facilitated dialogues, and online tools such as a problem solving commons and a clearinghouse.

We have or will be launching soon accessibility challenges to developers, industry, and students related to accessible wireless apps, cloud computing and cognitive disabilities, web 2.0 accessibility, and geo-location accessibility, as Chairman Genachowski mentioned in his July 19, 2010 speech. In the near future, we will be providing more details on the Chairman’s Award for Advancements in Accessibility as well as other upcoming events.

We are thrilled that Pam has agreed to lead the Accessibility and Innovation Initiative. Pam has been working on disability issues at the FCC since 1996 and was the first chief of the Disability Rights Office. You can contact Pam at Pam.Gregory@fcc.gov.

We are equally thrilled that Jamal Mazrui will be providing leadership to the Accessibility and Innovation Initiative. Jamal has been working as a technology specialist and on disability issues at the Commission since 1999.

We would also like to thank Elizabeth Lyle for her leadership in helping to establish the A&I Initiative. We are happy that she will continue to work with us on these issues, as she takes on new responsibilities as the Special Counsel for Innovation in the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau.

(Cross-posted at Reboot Blog)

Denying Bill Shock by Distorting the Facts

July 15th, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

By Joel Gurin and John Horrigan, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau.

The FCC receives thousands of complaints a year about cell-phone bill shock – what happens when consumers get sudden, unexpected increases in their bills from one month to the next. In May, we released a national survey, done with two major research firms, showing that 17 percent of Americans – 30 million people – have experienced this problem. Click here for the whitepaper on the FCC survey.  

Now, rather than focusing on ways to address consumers’ concerns, the wireless trade association (CTIA – The Wireless Association) has been hard at work finding unfounded ways to criticize the FCC’s data.   The association’s latest attack on the FCC’s study is based on an astounding misstatement: that as many as 70 percent of the people we interviewed were teenagers. This is simply untrue -- in fact, we made it clear that we interviewed only adults.

Ironically enough, this whopper of an error stemmed from CTIA’s misunderstanding of how research organizations interview cell-phone users, who are an increasingly important part of any survey sample. Click here for a more detailed rebuttal of this and other errors in CTIA’s argument.

It’s unfortunate that CTIA, which represents one of the country’s most innovative and productive industries, has decided that ignoring or distorting the facts is a better strategy than simply addressing wireless customers’ concerns. This trade association apparently believes there’s nothing to worry about if 30 million Americans have gotten sudden increases on their cell-phone bills.

At the FCC, where we handle thousands of complaints a year on exactly this subject, we do believe that it’s a problem, and one that consumers shouldn’t have to experience. Moving forward, we hope that CTIA can work with us on simple solutions to help their customers avoid these costly surprises.

Cross-posted to The Official FCC Blog.

Testing Broadband Speeds

June 21st, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

Here at the FCC, we've been working lately on new ways to measure broadband speed and help consumers understand it. We believe that consumers deserve to know what broadband speeds they need for different applications, from email to gaming; what the advertised speeds really mean; and whether they can be sure they're getting the speeds that are advertised. To that end, the FCC is partnering with SamKnows to conduct the first scientific, hardware-based test of broadband performance in America. To help us improve broadband quality in the U.S., volunteer at TestMyISP.com to sign up for this landmark test. The video below explains how it works and how you can get involved.
 


 View Transcript

Cross-posted on The Official FCC Blog.

More on Speed: Just How Satisfied Are Customers?

June 2nd, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

Our survey report on broadband speed yesterday attracted national attention and some additional questions. We've been asked for more detail on our findings about customer satisfaction with broadband speed. As we reported, 91 percent of fixed broadband customers are "very" or "somewhat" satisfied with that service, compared to 71 percent who are satisfied with the speed of mobile broadband. A closer look gives a fuller picture.

For fixed broadband, 50 percent of customers were very satisfied with the service overall, 41 percent were somewhat satisfied, 6 percent were "not too" satisfied, and 3 percent were not satisfied at all.

For mobile broadband, we asked specifically about satisfaction with speed, a slightly different question. Here, the numbers were lower: 33 percent very satisfied, 38 percent somewhat satisfied, 8 percent not too satisfied, and 5 percent not satisfied at all. (The other 14 percent said they didn't know.)

What to make of these numbers? A few things.

First, consumers are fairly well satisfied with the speed of the broadband they get at home. Having 50 percent say they are "very satisfied" is a strong showing, although it still leaves room for improvement. Even if people are satisfied with their home broadband speed, however, they may be paying hundreds of dollars a year more than they need to. Consumers still need better information to know what speed they need for the applications they run. And given the split between "very" and "somewhat" satisfied customers, more information on broadband speed would also help consumers choose between different providers.

For mobile broadband, the lower numbers show that this service still has a way to go to improve customer satisfaction - which is especially important as more people turn to mobile for their primary Internet connection. It's technologically harder to deliver high speeds by mobile, so the satisfaction gap between fixed and mobile broadband is understandable. But consider that satisfaction with mobile service overall - not broadband speed specifically - is quite high, with 59 percent very satisfied and 33 percent somewhat so. A decade ago, that satisfaction rate might have been hard to imagine. The wireless industry has made tremendous strides in innovation and service quality overall, and we can expect improvements in mobile broadband speed as well.

Accurate measurements of mobile broadband speed can be a boost to innovation. These measures can help wireless carriers learn more about where their networks function best and where they may fall short. Most consumers now have a choice of mobile broadband providers, and will be able to use these new measures to choose the providers who will serve them best.  Consumer choice, in turn, can increase competition, innovation, and ultimately help lead to better broadband service for all.

[Cross-posted from the Official FCC Blog]

Broadband Speed: When Ignorance is Costly

June 1st, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

For several months, the FCC has been working to help consumers get more information about the communications services they buy. Our Notice of Inquiry last August asked how we can help consumers make more informed choices about phone, television, and broadband services. That Notice brought out a lot of good ideas from public interest groups, the communications industries, and consumers themselves.

This year, we’ve followed up with a number of consumer initiatives coordinated by the FCC’s Consumer Task Force. We’ve written letters to wireless carriers about their early termination fees, taken on the problem of bill shock, and started to look at broadband speed.

Today, we’re releasing the results of a national survey that shows just how large the information gap is when it comes to broadband. According to this survey, fully 80 percent of Americans with broadband at home don’t know what speed they’re getting. This survey was done through a major firm and drew on a national sample of three thousand consumers.

This ignorance can be costly: The difference between a low-cost, slower broadband plan and a high-speed, more expensive one can be hundreds of dollars a year. In order to get the best service at the best value, consumers first need to understand what broadband speed they need for the applications they want to run. In addition, broadband service providers need to advertise their speeds in clear terms, and consumers need to be assured that the speeds they actually receive match what’s advertised. While broadband providers now advertise “blazing fast” internet service at “up to” a certain speed, that’s not specific enough to help consumers make informed choices.

Today, we’re taking two steps to help both consumers and service providers learn more about how broadband speed is being delivered:


It will take the FCC, public interest groups, and broadband service providers working together to help consumers understand their “need for speed.” The Cable Television Association, and several other broadband service providers, have already supported the FCC’s efforts to develop scientific tests of home broadband speed. We’re confident that we can all work together in the months ahead to turn consumer ignorance into consumer information.

[Cross-posted on the Official FCC Blog]

Broadband: What’s Your Need for Speed?

March 5th, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

Since I joined the FCC I’ve commuted weekly from my home in New York to Washington, which has broadened my horizons for comparative shopping. I get to compare bagels with crabcakes, The Washington Post with The New York Times, and high-speed Internet plans from different parts of the eastern seaboard.

The good news is that Internet service providers (ISPs) are offering a variety of plans with ever-faster speeds to support new applications, video, and games. But the bad news is that it’s not easy to understand what speed you actually need, or what speed you’ll actually get, from a given provider and a given plan. The ISP that serves my Washington apartment offers plans with download speeds of “up to” 15 or 30 Mbps (megabytes megabits per second)**; the one we have in our Westchester home can deliver downloads at up to 1, 12, or 16 Mbps; and a third provider keeps sending me offers for service with download speeds up to 15, 25, or 50 Mbps. These different providers have one thing in common: Each claims that its service is “blazing” fast.

If you’re cost-conscious, it’s important to find the plan that’s right for you; two plans from the same ISP can differ in price by $40 a month. But clear comparisons aren’t easy, for several reasons. First, most people don’t know what Mbps is – they don’t have the same intuitive sense for broadband speed numbers that they do for miles per hour or miles per gallon. Second, if you ask what speed you need for different applications – such as emailing documents, video, or gaming – you may get different answers from different ISPs.  Third, as my experience shows, different ISPs offer different speed “tiers” that aren’t easily comparable from provider to provider. And finally, a service that promises “up to” 50 Mbps may deliver much less than that in practice, due in part to factors that are outside the provider’s control. An FCC study found that real speeds may be only half of advertised speeds, particularly at peak evening usage times.

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan, which will be released on March 17, recommends different measures to help consumers find their way through the Mbps maze. The Plan will outline ways that online tools, labels, and other kinds of information can help consumers understand broadband speeds and choose the plans that work best for them. It will also address wireless broadband, where speeds can vary a lot by local coverage, and where consumers have many more providers to choose from.

The FCC is taking steps to help consumers even before the Plan is released. Next week we’ll launch new media tools at www.broadband.gov to give consumers more information about their broadband connections. And in the months ahead, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau and others at the FCC will be working hard to help consumers understand and learn about broadband speed. Please add your comments and let us know how you think the FCC can help.

**Note: Updated, with comment below



Capture The Phone Numbers Using Your Camera Phone

If you have a camera and a 2D matrix code reader on your mobile phone, you can capture the FCC Phone numbers right to your phone by following these three easy steps:
Step 1: Take a photograph of one of the codes below using the camera on your mobile phone.
Step 2: Use your phone's Datamatrix or QR Code reader to decode the information on the photograph. Please note, these code readers are device specific and are available to download on the internet.
Step 3: Store the decoded address information to your phone's address book and use it with your Maps or GPS application.

Datamatrix and QR FCC Phones