Verizon, AT&T, and other ISPs continue to mislead consumers

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Verizon Lowell McAdam
REUTERS/Rick
Wilking


Earlier this week, Verizon and AT&T introduced new services
for some of their respective customers:

  • Verizon advertised a “Fios Gigabit Connection” plan that promises
    “gigabit internet connection service” for more than 8 million
    homes scattered across Virginia, Washington, D.C., and the
    Northeast, with prices starting at $69.99 a month. This is an
    upgrade over the “Fios Instant Internet” service the company
    launched in January.
  • AT&T advertised a “5G Evolution” service that gives Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ owners in
    select areas of Austin, Texas faster mobile internet speeds.
    AT&T says it will give users up to “twice the speed of
    [its] 4G LTE network,” and that it will launch the service in
    “over 20 major metro areas” by the end of 2017.

To be clear: Both of these are nice upgrades. Faster internet is
a great thing, and the customers that are fortunate enough
to gain access to these services here will likely enjoy them.

The problem is they’re both misleading:

  • Verizon notes that what it calls “gigabit internet”
    averages between 750 Mbps to 940 Mbps for download speeds, and
    between 750 Mbps and 880 Mbps for upload speeds. That is still
    extremely fast, but it leaves room below the 1
    Gbps threshold that designates “gigabit internet.”
  • The $70-a-month starting price for the plan only applies to
    new customers. As Ars Technica reported, existing Fios
    customers will have to pay $20 or $30 more each month, if not
    higher, depending on what level of service they have today.
    Those with the Instant Internet plan will pay $80 a
    month.
  • That $70-a-month intro price is also part of a limited-time
    promotion — though Verizon says those who sign up while
    the promo lasts won’t have their bills raised after the fact
    — and it doesn’t factor in the usual router fees and
    additional taxes that come along with the bill.

I am a current Fios customer, and I live in an area that is
eligible for the Gigabit Connection plan. Here’s what I see
when I go to buy that plan on Verizon’s web site:


verizon gigabit internetJeff Dunn/Business Insider

  • AT&T does not explain everything that
    makes up its “5G Evolution” service, but it does mention
    technologies like carrier aggregation, 4×4 MIMO, and 256 QAM.
    This is very obtuse, but the gist is that those are all
    advanced forms of current 4G LTE technology. T-Mobile has used
    them in its network since last September.
  • The technology we call “5G” is still in development. The
    3GPP, the central standards body for the wireless industry,
    has said the first iteration of the
    standard won’t be ready until the end of the year, and that the
    complete standard won’t be ready for deployment until 2019.

To be fair, the term “5G Evolution” is not the same as “5G.” And
AT&T is working on new wireless
tech. But the mind trick is obvious.

It’s also very familiar. The news this week comes at a time when
the four major carriers offer “unlimited” data plans that aren’t
fully unlimited. All four say you may see moments of
reduced speeds in areas of congestion if you go past a certain
amount of data each month. That’s not as bad as a hard cap,
but all of the plans involve some sort of restriction on
mobile-hotspot data and/or the ability to stream videos on high
definition.

Again, that’s okay! Running a network is wildly expensive. But
the point is that’s data, and those caveats are
forms of limits, and they are part of plans that
are advertised and sold as “unlimited.”


att
Flickr/Mike
Mozart


There’s a certain type of language we’ve come to expect from
carriers and internet service providers over the years. Actual
words are tossed into a blender; they come out meaning half of
what they really do; and the rest of the definitions are
tucked away in fine print at the bottom of the page.

This doesn’t just apply to consumer-facing stuff, either. In the
wake of Congress striking down the Obama-era FCC’s
internet-privacy rules, the major telecom players made it clear
that they do not sell your “personal information” to third
parties.

But how true that is depends on how you define “personal
information.” Your name, address, and social security number are
off the table, but some ISPs leave the door open to anonymize browsing
data, location, and general demographic info, then sell it all in
bulk. And the CTIA, a major telecom trade group, successfully argued in January that customers
don’t need to give explicit permission before having their
web-browsing and app-usage data collected, because it isn’t
“sensitive” info. You have to go out of your way to find all
this.


A technician's vehicle sits in the parking lot at a Comcast facility in Lawrence, Massachusetts, U.S. January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
A
technician’s vehicle sits in the parking lot at a Comcast
facility in Lawrence

Thomson
Reuters


I’m not trying to lay judgment here. There is a general
predisposition among the general public to distrust ISPs to an
extent that maybe goes a bit far every now and
then. And the likes of Google, Facebook, or Amazon aren’t exactly angels about this stuff.

But when you’re in a business that is defined by a distinct lack of user choice, a
structure that major ISPs have lobbied to help keep in place, the least
you can provide is truth in advertising. The various pledges to keep a “free and open internet” in
the wake of the seemingly-doomed net-neutrality laws would be
a great place to start.

When I was telling a colleague about this post, he responded with
a laugh, and said, “Well, I doubt they plan to stop being
deceptive.” That attitude is unfortunate, but wholly
understandable.



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