Consumer Groups Push FTC For Broader Broadband Oversight

Would like to give FTC more flexibility in rules against unfair or deceptive practices
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Consumer groups including Consumer Federation of America and US PIRG used a hearing Wednesday on creation of a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to take aim at broadband pricing information and behavioral advertising.

That came in prepared testimony for a hearing in the House Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee on the administration's proposal for an agency to specifically police the financial services and products markets in the wake of the financial meltdown.

The proposal would also give the FTC more flexibility in promulgating rules against unfair or deceptive practices, which is where the consumer groups see an opportunity to target broadband practices.

Among the tasks the groups want a more muscular FTC to tackle are what they call "truth in broadband advertising," saying companies should be required to disclose their access and usage terms in plain English. "Consumers should be able to choose providers based on truthful information detailing speed and quality of service," they say.

They want those disclosures to include bandwidth levels, latency (delay), any limits on access to content and any content getting "preferential treatment.

On the behavioral marketing, which is the subject of a bill in the communications subcommittee, they want the FTC to investigate online marketing practices, "expose" ones that compromise privacy, issue injunctions on some current practices they say "abuse" consumers and adopt principles for "technology neutral fair information practices."

The Consumer, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee and the Communications Subcommittee--both under Energy & Commerce--held a joint hearing June 19 on the behavioral advertising issue at which privacy and disclosure were hot topics and the ad industry signaled the imminent release of self-regulatory guidelines.

That release came last week and they included more consumer control and disclosure.

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