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The Broadband Bill of Rights
On this fifth Anniversary of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, it is clear that the dream of its creators – to deliver lower prices for local phone services, and speed up the deployment of advanced networks – is still a mirage for the overwhelming majority of America’s phone customers. And recent events all point to a serious crisis in telecommunications and broadband deployment.
The facts are clear – The Baby Bells are still monopolies, and they are unfairly using their market dominance and control of the local phone networks to close out DSL and local telecom competition. Also, their longstanding promises to deploy advanced network services and facilities remain unfulfilled, even though the Bells were able to leverage these promises to hold onto high retail rates from the inflationary ’70s and ’80s, resulting in massive Bell profits over the last decade – and continuing today.
We believe the Bells’ practices are harming America’s economic growth, not to mention phone and DSL customers. It is time to enforce the Telecom Act – and amend it if need be – and not let the Bells kill America’s Broadband Future.
This document sets out the “Broadband Bill of Rights” – statements of law and policy that are to some extent already inherent in state and federal telecommunications law, but which seem to have been lost in the shuffle of Bell mega-mergers and unceasing Bell efforts to stonewall local competition. These rights should be reaffirmed by state and federal legislators and regulators, and should be implemented immediately. This statement of rights was created by Bruce Kushnick, Executive Director of New Networks Institute, Joe Plotkin, Director of Marketing/DSL, Bway.net, two respected Washington lawyers who shall remain nameless, George Mason, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson.
1. AccessTelephone users – consumers and businesses – have the inalienable and unencumbered right to broadband access via the local phone networks to all areas of the public Internet, including the World Wide Web.
2. ChoiceTelephone users have the right to a competitive environment which gives them real choices as to the provider of broadband access and the technical means used to provide such access, including:
3. TimelinessTelephone users have the right to a rapid, trouble free installation of physical infrastructure for broadband access, and the right to substantial monetary compensation from any provider who imposes on the user’s time and patience by failing to provide such an installation.
4. AvailabilityTelephone users have the right to expect facilities to be available for broadband access, even where the telephone company has to build new wiring to meet their needs.
5: Accurate InformationTelephone users have the right to receive accurate and timely information from their broadband supplier, including:
- Choice of speed and product (SDSL, ADSL, T-1, etc.)
- Choice of vendor (Local ISP, National ISP, CLEC, Building-CLEC, ILEC, Cable MSO, etc.)
- Choice of technology or platform (cable modem, DSL, wireless)
6. ReliabilityEvery telephone user has the right to high-speed connections with a 99% reliability rate. Barring extreme circumstances such as floods or ice storms, broadband service outages should be extremely rare, and extremely brief when they occur. Every telephone user has the right to rely on broadband service for essential and time-sensitive personal communications, 24x7x365.
7: Customer Services and RepairsEvery telephone user has the right to have broadband services repaired in full no later than the day after the outage is reported. Providers of broadband services have the obligation to have enough people ready and able to make repairs that meet this requirement, and the obligation to have the automated systems in place to rapidly pinpoint problems so that repair people can be quickly and properly deployed. Where a repair requires a visit to the customer’s home or business, the customer has a right to a firm commitment from the provider that the repair people will arrive and complete their work within an agreed four-hour window – seven days a week – and a right to real monetary compensation from the provider if this obligation is not met.
8: Real Broadband SpeedEvery telephone user has the right to receive the broadband speed contracted for at least 95% of the time. “Network congestion” is not an explanation for why contracted-for speeds are not delivered: it is, and should always be treated as, an admission by the provider that it has failed to meet its obligation to deploy the facilities needed to deliver the services for which the customer has paid and that the provider has agreed to deliver.
9. Enforcement and CompensationEvery telephone user has a right to have all laws and requirements on the telephone company actively enforced. The telephone company should be required to make substantial monetary compensation to the customer for failures to perform as promised; for provider failures to arrive for installation or repair during the promised 4-hour window; and for any lack of network resources leading to customer services below the promised levels.
10: Broadband True-UpTelephone users collectively – the public – has the right to an immediate review of all previous Bell promises to deliver an “upgraded,” “high-speed,” “advanced,” or “digital” network over the last decade. The public has a right to know why the Bells are still whining to Congress and regulators about still more hand-outs and special benefits they are demanding in exchange for providing “advanced” services and networks that should have been provided years ago under special regulatory and legislative deals struck in the late 1980s and 1990s. These immediate review of Bell failures to deliver on past promises must include an explanation of:
- A transparent system and user-friendly system to determine service availability so consumer can make reasonable choices about what services to order.
- Easy and user-friendly access to accurate information regarding the state of the particular supplier’s physical infrastructure that will be used to provide service.
11. Equal Access to the Customer — Marketing ParityEvery telephone customer has the right to fair and competitive options for DSL service from multiple ISPs and CLECs, along with services from the ILEC. To secure this right, ILECs shall not enter into discriminatory sweetheart DSL deals – whether hidden behind “volume commitments,” “preferential marketing arrangements,” or otherwise – with affiliated ISPs or favored third parties.
12: Divestiture IITelephone users have the right to prompt vindication of all of the rights enumerated here. They have not been fully secured even though it is five years from the passage of the Telecom Act of 1996. If these rights have not been fully secured one year from now – whether by reason of Bell dithering, litigation, lobbying or otherwise – then telephone users can fairly presume that monopoly control of local loops cannot safely be in the same hands of a company offering switching, long distance, or other services. Consequently, at that time state and federal regulators should promptly force the Bells to divest themselves of their local loop plant to a firm that should be jointly owned by all providers of local telephone service and jointly administered for the benefit of all customers, irrespective of their chosen service provider.
13: Competitive Broadband Bill of RightsAll of the above rights shall apply to residential and business customers, as well as their suppliers including: any Competitive Local phone companies (CLEC), Internet Service Providers, (ISPs) Network resellers, or other competitors to the local phone companies.
a. Why Bells have failed to deploy advanced networks in a timely and reasonable fashion.b. How many billions of dollars the Bells have collected under “alternative regulation” and “incentive regulation” plans that were implemented in reliance on unfulfilled Bell promises to deploy optical fiber and offer high-speed services to consumers and small businesses.
c. Precisely how much money has been spent providing advanced facilities such as optical fiber for schools, libraries, hospitals, prisons, government agencies, residential customers, and business customers; how many actual customers in those categories have truly received any benefits from those expenditures; and how those expenditures and plant placements have supposedly benefited those customers.
d. The total network equipment write-offs the Bells have enjoyed for their copper and other telecom plant; a strict accounting of the tax benefits those write-offs have created; and an explanation of how and whether those tax benefits have been flowed through to the benefit of customers.
e. An detailed review of the Bells’ actual plant in service and a true-up of that review with the FCC’s audits finding that billions of dollars of plant – that for years was used to justify higher rates to customers, higher rates that persist today in the guise of “price regulation” based ultimately on inflated costs – simply does not exist.
f. A strict accounting of the tax benefits that the Bells have enjoyed by virtue of taking year of depreciation expenses on the non-existent plant revealed in the FCC’s audits.
g. A detailed accounting to assure that Bell DSL services are not being cross-subsidized – to the detriment of entrepreneurial competitors – with inflated revenues received from consumers of basic services.