US Rep Anna Echoo (D-Calif) introduced a bill that would require wireless carriers to disclose factors like minimum data speeds, network reliability, and coverage of their 4G services at the point of sale. The legislation would ensure consumers have the information they need to make informed decisions about their wireless services.
Consumers, the target of many advertising campaigns, are understandably confused, especially in light of the recent announcements by a number of wireless carriers about their networks and network expansion plans. Carriers refer to their networks as 4G networks even though the underlying implementations are different. Some networks use WiMax, and others use LTE while some consumer advocates say that neither of the implementations meets the underlying ITU standards. The underlying ITU standards specify that 4G technology offers download speeds of 100Mbps – the fastest published speed on any carrier’s network is currently about 14Mbps.
Wireless carriers repeatedly warn that a number of factors contribute to the download speeds that a particular user may experience, making it difficult to describe the transfer speeds individual consumers might expect. Mobile wireless communications are inherently complex with factors like the number of subscribers accessing a particular cellular tower, the user’s distance from the tower, the speed the user is moving, and the user’s location within a building or on a street – factors that are outside of the carrier’s control. In addition, wireless communications are based on a shared model, so a lot of people in an area can have a significant impact on download speeds, even when different carriers are involved. A well-known example occurred during president Obama’s inauguration – a very large percentage of people at the event were unable to use their phones for hours due to congestion from the sheer number of people attempting to place calls or access the internet.
Consumer groups like the proposed legislation because they say it improves transparency, enabling consumers to get a better understanding of a wireless service before committing to a potentially lengthy contract with a carrier.
Wireless carriers are still building-out their 4G networks resulting in variations in coverage as the networks change. The proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile could significantly change AT&T network, which does not currently offer any 4G LTE services, yet Verizon is expanding and currently covers 74 markets and over 120m people. Globally, wireless carriers are heavily investing in network infrastructure in an attempt to keep up with growing consumer demand: global wireless network infrastructure spending is expected to top $43 billion this year.
The legislation, called the Next Generation Wireless Disclosure Act has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where it will be brought to a vote. Congresswoman Echoo has a proven track record with consumer-oriented legislation. Congresswoman Echoo was the author if a recently signed law that requires the audio level of television commercials to be at the same volume as regular programming.