FCC to Web providers: We're watching you

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday put broadband Internet companies on notice that they should give customers accurate information about their prices, Web speeds and services.

“Consumers deserve to get the broadband service they pay for,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement after a formal advisory was issued. “After today, no broadband provider can claim they didn’t know we were watching to see that they disclose accurate information about the services they provide.”

Under the FCC’s regulations, broadband companies are required to disclose “accurate information” about the services they offer, including cost and Internet performance. In recent months, consumers have sent in hundreds of complaints about misleading or inaccurate details, leading to Wednesday’s notice. 

“Accurate disclosures ensure that consumers — as well as the Commission and the public as a whole — are informed about a broadband Internet access provider’s network management practices, performance, and commercial terms,” the FCC said in its notice.

“Thus, the Transparency Rule prevents a broadband Internet access provider from making assertions about its service that contain errors, are inconsistent with the provider’s disclosure statement, or are misleading or deceptive.”

Violations of the rule can lead to fines and other penalties, the FCC said.

The transparency regulations were issued in 2011, along with the FCC’s previous rules for net neutrality, which required Web providers to treat all online traffic equally, regardless of which websites people were visiting

While those broader regulations were struck down earlier this year, the transparency rules were left standing. An FCC spokeswoman said Wednesday’s notice was a reminder to companies that the rule is still on the books.

The FCC is currently working on rewriting the broader regulations on net neutrality, which has led to a firestorm of activity and criticism from both sides of the aisle.

Earlier this year, the FCC issued a report showing that Internet providers were, by and large, meeting or exceeding their advertised online speeds, though some DSL companies were falling short.