‘Transparency’ By the Book

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Washington — After vetting comments on the impact of
transparency requirements contained in its network-neutrality
rules, the Federal Communications Commission has given
cable operators more guidance as to which types of information
would fulfill that transparency requirement.

In a public notice clarifying the transparency requirements,
the FCC tried to assuage Internetservice
providers concerned about just what
would be required of them and whether the
agency was going to spring any surprises on
them down the line. That was particularly
important after the original order signaled
that even doing everything on the list would
provide no “safe harbor” for operators.

That order noted that “there may be additional
information, not included above, that
should be disclosed for a particular broadband
service to comply with the rule in light
of relevant circumstances.”

Here is a handy guide to what will keep
cable operators on the straight and narrow
when it comes to informing customers
about fixed broadband Internet service. An
FCC spokesman said that if and when the regulator decides to
refi ne the list or adopt new requirements per the above relevant
circumstances, “we’ll, of course, provide public notice.”

Point-of-sale disclosures of network service management,
performance and terms.
The rules do not require hard
copies or “extensive” employee training. Customers can be directed
to a website where the information is clearly posted,
but not to a general website if the information is not disclosed
prominently on that page.

Service description. The rules require operators to disclose
“accurate” information on network performance for
each broadband service. The FCC said that participants in its
broadband-performance measurement project may use those
results. At present, participants include ISPs representing 86%
of all residential fixed service, according to the FCC: AT&T, Cablevision
Systems, CenturyLink, Charter Communications,
Comcast, Cox Communications, Frontier Communications,
Insight Communications, Mediacom Communications,
Qwest Communications International, Time Warner Cable,
Verizon Communications and Windstream.

Extent of disclosures.One issue cable operators had with
the disclosure portion of the order was the line about the order’s
list of things that would need to be disclosed not being
”necessarily exhaustive.” ISPs were worried they might find
themselves liable for new disclosures.

“We clarify that disclosure of the information specifically
identified in paragraph 56 and [for mobile] paragraph 98 of
the Open Internet Order will suffice for compliance with the
transparency rule at this time [emphasis ours, not the FCC’s],”
the agency’s clarification notice said, adding, “the Commission
may determine in the future that different disclosures by
broadband providers are appropriate at that
time.” Those are the requirements the FCC
spokesman said would be announced beforehand,
with opportunity for comment.

For those without a copy of the order handy,
paragraph 56 requires disclosure of congestion
management, application-specific
behavior (inhibiting of favoring or certain
apps or classes of apps and why it does so),
device attachment rules or restrictions, security
practices, service description (including
the impact of specialized services),
pricing, privacy policies and how to complain
if any of the above aren’t properly disclosed.

Information for content, application,
service and device providers
. The order requires
ISPs to give those outside providers enough knowhow
to provide services over their networks. The FCC has clarified
that ISPs with sufficiently detailed consumer disclosures about
network management won’t have to make a separate disclosure
to edge providers. It defines “sufficiently detailed” as information
that allows “a technologically sophisticated Internet
user to understand how such network-management practices
work, and how they affect consumers’ access to and use of
Internet offerings.”

Security measures. ISPs argued that keeping consumers
up to date with rapidly changing security measures would be a
tough order to fill. Th e FCC said ISPs may use their own judgment
about specific updates, but with the caveat that it expects
providers to disclose any change that affects either consumers
access to content or applications or edge providers development
of those content or apps.