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Solutions to Stop Use of Contraband Cell Phones by Prisoners

Posted December 31st, 2010 by Jamie Barnett - Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

A few weeks ago a cell phone was found in Charles Manson’s California prison cell. Corcoran, California Prison authorities confirmed that Manson had been in contact with people outside the prison walls, and for some time.  Just last month, Georgia inmates are reported to have used them to coordinate a work strike across a number of the state’s prisons.

A cell phone these days is apparently something the average American cannot live without.  And, it seems, neither can the nation’s inmates. This is a major public safety concern. Today, prisons across the nation are reportedly confiscating thousands of cell phones from inmates, yet this contraband is still being used by inmates daily.

Cell phones in the hands of prisoners present a serious threat to public safety.  Despite federal and some state laws prohibiting their possession, today, thousands of prisoners nationwide are in possession of contraband cell phones and are conducting illegal enterprises despite serving time for other crimes.  An inmate’s illegal activity may involve discussions with fellow criminals outside the prison walls about drug trafficking, money laundering or intimidating witnesses – or worse, plotting their murders.  This is a national problem that has been of concern for state and local law enforcement and department of corrections officials for sometime.  And, it’s a problem the FCC is committed to help solve.

Well, some argue, just jam the cell phones.  However, that’s not easy, not preferable, and not legal.  The Communications Act of 1934 broadly prohibits jamming devices, including cell phone jammers, and the FCC cannot waive this statutory prohibition.  There is a very good public safety reason for the prohibition of jammers.  The use of jammers in prisons to stop the use of contraband cell phones by inmates could interfere with police, fire and emergency medical communications.  Already, there has been increased FCC enforcement against illegal jammers that have interfered with public safety communications and GPS signals.  Interference from jammers is likely because public safety radio communications operate in frequency bands adjacent to those used for commercial mobile communications.  National public safety groups have stated their concern about vital communications being disrupted as a result of illegal jamming.

Moreover, jammers could disrupt or prevent authorized calls, including 9-1-1 calls, from civilians living, working and travelling in proximity to a prison using jammers.  Public safety groups estimate that 50-75 percent of all calls to 9-1-1 centers are made from cell phones. We expect that this trend will continue to grow with more than 270 million commercial wireless customers nationwide today.  The FCC is committed to making sure that these calls are not disrupted by illegal jamming activities.

Last week, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) submitted its report – Contraband Cell Phones in Prisons: Possible Wireless Technology Solutions available at Contraband Cell Phones in Prisons, Possible Wireless Technology Solutions  – to Congress.  The report, written in coordination with the FCC, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the National Institute of Justice, investigates and evaluates wireless jamming, detection, managed network access, and other technologies that might be used to prevent contraband cell phone use by prison inmates.  The report provides an overview of the characteristics and capabilities of various technologies.  NTIA finds that:

Prison officials should have access to technology to disrupt prison cell phone use in a manner that protects nearby public safety and Federal Government spectrum users from harmful disruption of vital services, and preserves the rights of law-abiding citizens to enjoy the benefits of the public airwaves without interference. 

As detailed in the report, the FCC has taken quick action to defeat contraband cell phone use in prisons that does not involve the use of cell phone jamming devices.  There are new and emerging technologies now available that work.  One such technology the FCC calls “contraband cell phone capture,” which is designed to capture cell phones calls inside the prison, analyze whether the calls are from legitimate devices or not, and prevent completion of calls from unauthorized cell phones, in effect making those cell phones useless to inmates.  Prison administrators are able to do this without affecting the legitimate use of cell phones by prison authorities within the prison and by the public living or working in close proximity to the facility to make 911 emergency or commercial calls.  

The technology for contraband cellphone capture can be configured to detect the approximate location within cellblocks of contraband cell phones thus allowing for search and seizure.  Oftentimes, other contraband is swept up in these searches.  When operated under appropriate court ordered warrants, detection devices can collect information about inmates’ use of contraband cell phones, thus aiding in the interdiction of ongoing criminal enterprises being conducted behind bars.  The technology works very effectively, capturing inmate cell phone calls from the very beginning. In fact, this past September Mississippi became the first state in the Nation to deploy this technology at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.  In the first month alone, more than 216,000 unauthorized calls were intercepted, and the rate of attempts showed a sharp decline once inmates realized those calls would not go through.  Other states – Maryland, South Carolina, California, and Texas – are evaluating call capture systems, as well.  In the end, prisoners would no longer have incentive to use contraband cell phones because they simply won’t work behind prison walls.

The FCC stands ready to work with our federal partners, lawmakers, states, counties and cities on this important issue and can assist them with navigating the regulatory landscape as they move forward with legal ways to deal with this issue.  The goal is to find and implement the most effective and precise technological options to defeat contraband cell phone use in prisons as quickly as possible without adopting technologies that could endanger the public.

Posted in Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

New Rules for an Open Internet

Posted December 21st, 2010 by Julius Genachowski - Chairman, Federal Communications Commission.

Julius GenachowskiAlmost everyone seems to agree that the openness of the Internet is essential -- it has unleashed an enormous wave of innovation, economic growth, job creation, small business generation, and vibrant free expression.

But for too long, the freedom and openness of the Internet has been unprotected. No rules on the books to protect basic Internet values. No process for monitoring Internet openness as technology and business models evolve.

No recourse for innovators, consumers, or speakers harmed by improper practices. And no predictability for Internet service providers, so that they can effectively manage and invest in broadband networks.

Earlier today, that all changed.

As a result of a vote, which was just taken by the FCC, we have -- for the first time -- enforceable rules of the road to preserve Internet freedom and openness.

The rules we have adopted are straightforward, and they enshrine a set of key principles.

First, consumers and innovators have a right to know the basic performance characteristics of their Internet access and how their network is being managed. We have adopted a transparency rule that will give consumers and innovators the clear and simple information they need to make informed choices in choosing networks or designing the next killer app.

Second, consumers and innovators have a right to send and receive lawful traffic -- to go where they want, say what they want, experiment with ideas -- commercial and social, and use the devices of their choice. Our new rules thus prohibit the blocking of lawful content, apps, services, and the connection of devices to the network.

Third, consumers and innovators have a right to a level playing field. No central authority, public or private, should have the power to pick winners and losers on the Internet; that’s the role of the commercial market and the marketplace of ideas.

That is why we adopted a ban on unreasonable discrimination. And we are making clear that so-called “pay for priority” arrangements involving fast lanes for some companies but not others are unlikely to be allowed.

The rules also recognize that broadband providers need meaningful flexibility to manage their networks to deal with congestion, security, and other issues. And we recognize the importance and value of business-model experimentation, such as tiered pricing.

These rules fulfill many promises, including a promise to the future – a promise to the companies that don’t yet exist, and the entrepreneurs who haven’t yet started work in their dorm rooms or garages.

Today, the FCC did the right thing for the future of Internet freedom, and I look forward to building on today’s roles as the FCC continues its work to promote innovation, investment, and job creation, and to improve the lives of the American people through communications technology.

Posted in From The Chairman Open Meetings

Critical Infrastructure Protection Month

Posted December 21st, 2010 by Jamie Barnett - Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

On December 3 of this year, the President issued a Proclamation that December is Critical Infrastructure Protection Month.  In the Proclamation, President Obama said, "[M]y Administration is committed to delivering the necessary information, tools, and resources to areas where critical infrastructure exists in order to maintain and enhance its security and resilience."  This effort is a central focus for the Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.  The Bureau’s mission is to ensure public safety and homeland security by advancing state-of-the-art communications that are accessible, reliable, resilient, and secure, in coordination with public and private partners.   As part of the nation’s national security protection programs, the Bureau is a key contributor in protecting communications facilities that are a critical component of the nation’s infrastructure.

There are several critical infrastructure sectors and each sector has an Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC).  As part of our responsibilities in critical infrastructure protection, we support the Communications ISAC by providing subject matter expert liaison staff.  The mission of the Communications ISAC is to facilitate voluntary collaboration and information sharing among government and industry in support of Executive Order 12472 and the national critical infrastructure protection goals of Presidential Decision Directive 63.  The intent is to gather information on vulnerabilities, threats, intrusions, and anomalies from multiple sources in order to perform analysis with the goal of averting or mitigating impact upon the telecommunications infrastructure. 

In addition to terrestrial communications with which we are most familiar, the space-based Global Positioning System (GPS) is inextricably integrated into most of the critical infrastructure sectors.  Although it has not yet officially been designated as a critical infrastructure sector, we are helping, in association with DHS, DOT and other agencies, to protect the GPS positioning, navigation, and timing receivers from interference and jamming.   

Although we are involved in many other areas related to public safety and homeland security, the Bureau has a vested interest in collaborating with state, local and Federal partners to do whatever we can to protect the critical infrastructure related to communications.  The work of the Commission and more specifically the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau is an integral part of protecting our nation, and as the President also said in his Proclamation, "Working together, we can raise awareness of the important role our critical infrastructure plays in sustaining the American way of life and developing actions to protect these vital resources."  We are committed to doing so.

See the proclamation.

Posted in Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
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Moving Forward on Next Generation 911

Posted December 21st, 2010 by Jamie Barnett - Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

Today, the Commission adopted a Notice of Inquiry which initiates a comprehensive proceeding to address how Next Generation 911 (NG911) can enable the public to obtain emergency assistance by means of advanced communications technologies beyond traditional voice-centric devices.  This represents the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau’s next step in implementing the recommendations of the National Broadband Plan.

In the telecommunications industry overall, competitive forces and technological innovation have ushered in an era of advanced Internet-Protocol (IP)-based devices and applications that have vastly enhanced the ability of the public to communicate and send and receive information.  Unfortunately, our legacy circuit-switched 911 system has been unable to accommodate the capabilities embedded in many of these advanced technologies, such as the ability to transmit and receive photos, text messages, and video.  However, we have begun a transition to NG911, a system which will bridge the gap between the current 911 system and the evolving technological environment.
This November, I had the chance to visit Arlington, Virginia’s state of the art 911 center, which is at the forefront of the move toward NG911.  With 70% of our nation’s 911 calls originating from mobile phones, the evolution of our 911 system to one which not only accepts, but welcomes, text and multimedia messages is crucial.  The advances in our NG911 system pave the way for first responders to attain maximum situational awareness of an emergency before stepping onto the scene.  Additionally, it allows consumers, who often rely on text and multimedia messaging, to feel comfortable in the fact that the 911 system is responsive to their unique needs in the new media environment. 

Furthermore, the switch to an IP-based system allows the 911 system to manage 911 calls dynamically.  Often, when a major disaster occurs, the 911 system becomes congested due to surges in emergency calls to the local answering point, resulting in dropped and blocked calls.  The NG911 system, by dynamically managing calls, will allow calls that are destined for particular answering points to be routed in an efficient and effective manner, preventing the congestion that often accompanies major emergencies.

Accordingly, today’s NOI seeks to gain a better understanding of how the gap between the capabilities of modern networks and devices and today’s 911 system can be bridged and on how to further the transition to IP-based communications capabilities for emergency communications and NG911.This NOI will move us closer to forming a new regulatory framework for NG911 that adapts to evolving public expectations in terms of the communications platforms the public would rely upon to request emergency services and ensures that our nation’s 911 system is at its most effective in the future.  The Bureau remains committed to ensuring that our nation’s 911 system serves the American people in the best possible manner.  This NOI furthers the process begun in the National Broadband Plan of ensuring that the transition to NG911 is effective and efficient and adapts to the changing communications environment.

Posted in Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

Supporting Stability in the Online Marketplace

Posted December 13th, 2010 by Dan McSwain

Internet businesses need stability to thrive. That’s the message that emerged from a meeting held here at the FCC last week between Chairman Genachowski and CALinnovates, a group of start-ups and young businesses that are creating jobs and introducing new technology products into the online marketplace.

A resolution to the Open Internet proceeding that preserves the foundational principles of the medium is fundamental to helping new businesses grow. Watch the latest installation in our FCC Tech Cast series -- a round of interviews with the entrepreneurs themselves -- to get their first-hand take on the urgent need for action on this issue.

Posted in FCC Staff

Creating Interoperable Communications for First Responders

Posted December 10th, 2010 by Jennifer Manner - Deputy Bureau Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

Today we took a very important step in ensuring nationwide interoperability for public safety broadband communications.  The Public Safety Bureau, based on the recommendations of the FCC's Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC), is working toward a technical interoperability framework . The ERIC recommendations were developed following a thorough review of fifteen interoperability showings from early builders of 700 MHz public safety mobile broadband networks, as well as extensive comments by the public safety community.

This technical framework will help ensure from day one that interoperability is achieved among all public safety broadband networks. It also moves us closer to ensuring that the nation will not face the same magnitude of problems previously identified by the 9/11 Commission and others regarding the limitations and inability of America's first responders to effectively communicate with one another during 9/11 and then, subsequently, during and in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  We look forward to our continued work with America's first responders, state and local emergency managers and hospital emergency departments to make sure their broadband communications needs are met.

Posted in Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
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Announcing Generation Mobile, Featuring Jane Lynch

Posted December 9th, 2010 by George Krebs

(Photo credit: LG Text Ed)

You can find them in the most innocent settings. The dinner table, the classroom, during evening homework hour or an otherwise quiet family walk. Clicking, clacking, beeping, buzzing and whirring. This maneuvering marauder? Mobile phones equipped with text messaging. These devices are exploding in use among the current generation and teens seem programmed to use them constantly.

A happy medium exists. Commonsense and responsible use of technology is within reach. To many parents the mobile culture is unfamiliar. We’re hosting a Generation Mobile forum next Tuesday bringing together teens, parents, educators and experts. During this event we’ll do our best to help parents navigate these challenging issues.

We’ll discuss cyberbullying, sexting, over use, privacy, and texting-while-driving. The Pew Internet and American Life project will present their findings from a landmark study, “Kids and Mobile Phones.”

For the Gleeks in the audience we’re pleased that actress and comedienne Jane Lynch, of LG’s Text Ed campaign, will be joining us remotely. Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes the book upon which the movie Mean Girls was based, will join FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in hosting the first panel “Generation Mobile Speaks” featuring teens, parents and educators. The second panel, “Ask the Experts About Generation Mobile” will feature experts from SafetyWeb, Facebook, Sprint and other major mobile and technology players. A full list of panelists and speakers is below.

This event is about you. We’ve lined up an impressive slate of experts for our sessions on kids, teens and mobile phones. What do you want to know when they take the stage Tuesday? We’ve filled in a couple of starter questions to stimulate ideas. Far more importantly we want to hear from you. Type in your question, wait for User Voice to generate and then click “Create New Idea” below the box. Ask your questions now.

We’re honored to be hosted by DC’s own, cutting edge McKinley Technology High School (151 T Street Northeast). The event will take place on Tuesday December 14th from 10am to 1pm ET. If you’re able to join us – free of charge – please RVSP to generationmobile [at] fcc [dot] gov. Since most of you are outside of the DC area we’ll be live streaming this exciting event online at fcc.gov/live. Participate through Twitter using #genmobile.

Stay tuned. We’ll post updates to the agenda and the speaker list as they become available.

Speakers and Panelists Include:

  • Julius Genachowski, FCC Chairman
  • Jane Lynch, Emmy Winning Actress and Spokesperson for the LG Text Ed Council
  • Rosalind Wiseman, Author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, basis for Mean Girls the movie
  • Tim Sparapani, Director of Public Policy, Facebook
  • Parry Aftab, Kids Technology Expert and Creator of Stopcyberbullying.org
  • Amanda Lenhart, Senior Research Specialist, Pew Research Center
  • Marsali Hancock, President, Internet Keep Safe Coalition
  • Michael Clark, Co-Founder, SafetyWeb
  • Dr. Michael Levine, Executive Director, Joan Ganz Cooney Center
  • Maureen Cooney, Privacy Officer, Sprint
  • Stephen Balkam, CEO, Family Online Safety Institute
  • K. Dane Snowden, Vice President, CTIA
  • Alan Simpson, Vice President, Common Sense Media
  • Lanita Preston, Author and mother of Frank Preston
  • Stacey A. Kopnitsky, Assistant Principal, Cabin John Middle School
  • Dwan Jordon, Principal, Sousa Middle School, Washington, DC
  • And we’ll hear from a panel of teens about how they use mobile technology

Update 12/13 1:26pm ET: Final Agenda for Generation Mobile Program

10:00 a.m.       Welcome, Opening Remarks, Live Chat with Jane Lynch

  • Welcome by David Pinder, Principal, McKinley Technology High School
  • Remarks by Julius Genachowski, Chairman, FCC
  • Live Video Chat with Actress Jane Lynch, LG Text Ed Council 
  • Presentation by Amanda Lenhart, Senior Researcher, Pew Internet Project

10:40 a.m.       Panel I:  Generation Mobile Speaks

  • Rosalind Wiseman, Author and Teen Expert, Member LG Text Ed Council
  • Julius Genachowski, Chairman, FCC


  • Tori Dugger, Senior, McKinley Technology High School
  • Jonathan Harris II, Senior, Dr. Henry A. Wise High School, Upper Marlboro, Md.
  • Erin Maines, Sophomore, Falls Church High School, Falls Church, Va.
  • Frank Preston, Junior, Howard High School, Ellicott City, Md.
  • Lanita Preston, Author and Mother of Frank Preston
  • Stacey A. Kopnitsky, Assistant Principal, Cabin John Middle School, Rockville, Md.
  • Parry Aftab, Executive Director, WiredSafety.org
  • Dwan Jordon, Principal, Sousa Middle School, Washington, D.C.

11:40 a.m.       Panel II: Ask the Experts About Generation Mobile

  • Josh Gottheimer, Senior Counselor to the Chairman, FCC


  • Marsali Hancock, President, Internet Keep Safe Coalition
  • Dr. Michael Levine, Executive Director, Joan Ganz Cooney Center 
  • Maureen Cooney, Privacy Officer, Sprint 
  • Michael Clark, Co-Founder, SafetyWeb
  • Dane Snowden, Vice President, External & State Affairs, CTIA
  • Tim Sparapani, Director of Public Policy, Facebook
  • Alan Simpson, Vice President for Policy, Common Sense Media
  • Stephen Balkam, CEO, Family Online Safety Institute

1:00 p.m.         Program Concludes

(Cross posted on Blogband.)

Posted in Events Consumers Office Of Chairman Parents Mobile

The FCC and First Year of Open Government

Posted December 7th, 2010 by Steven VanRoekel - Managing Director, Federal Communications Commission

In the modern federal landscape, the FCC finds itself increasingly at the intersection of technology, law, and citizen participation. It’s a challenging place to be -- these arenas change quickly, and move in ways that advancements in one ripple out and can change the others. But the opportunity to make progress on these fronts has never been greater.

Modernizing the rulemaking process -- keeping up with these changes to best serve the American public -- was the focus of an event hosted by the Brookings Institute last week. As an invited member of the Digitization – Past, Present, and Short-Term Future panel , I spoke about two key benefits that new technology offers to the rulemaking process.

First, erulemaking can make government work smarter. Moving from a largely paper-based system -- the norm very recently -- to a digital system has led to a rulemaking process that’s accessible, searchable and less weighed down by troves of paperwork.

Second, moving rulemaking online has allowed the FCC to open a process that was closed for too long. Traditionally, access to rulemaking required access to the expert legal mechanisms typically out of the reach of most citizens, yet the rules we are creating are created for all and often impact people who don’t have access to legal support. We’ve made strides on this front - You may be familiar with our online comment crowdsourcing platforms, the ability to integrate blog comments into the public record, and our other moves to make the FCC process as open as possible – there’s more to come.

Something most people don’t know: the FCC is also developing ways to help citizens that lack access to the Internet participate in rulemakings remotely via voicemail, powered by increasingly accurate speech-to-text technologies. It’s another way that the spirit of open government is pushing us to tinker with the process, open up closed structures, and empower citizen experts to meaningfully engage with rulemaking.

With the help of open technologies, agencies like the FCC increasingly find themselves as repositories of valuable insight generated by citizen experts. New technology makes that information available as data outputs that are easily shared, syndicated, and mashed-up against other data sets. As part of our team’s effort to reimagine a new FCC.gov, we’re revamping the Electronic Comment Filing System that allows for bulk download, RSS subscription to particular rulemakings, and infusing our own processes more with the web services model that’s ubiquitous in the modern Internet.

An open and participatory FCC is in line with the spirit of President Obama’s Open Government Directive -- passed one year ago today -- that is creating a more open, transparent, and participatory government.

On this anniversary, we think it is worth looking back and compiling the agency’s open government accomplishments. Take a look, then add your voice in the comments and help us continue improving the FCC’s rulemaking process.

Posted in Reform - Redesign FCC Staff Open Government Spectrum Dashboard Reform - Rules And Processes Reform - Data Office Of Managing Director Data Developer Api Accessibility

Preserving Openness to Protect Jobs

Posted December 7th, 2010 by Julius Genachowski - Chairman, Federal Communications Commission.

The impact that Internet entrepreneurs have made on the world is unquestioned.

These businesses push the limits of innovation and move America's economy forward, bound only by their imagination as they grow and expand their reach. This free spirit of creativity doesn’t just make new tech, it also helps create new jobs.

Small businesses and start-ups have accounted for more than 22 million new American jobs over the last 15 years. And broadband has played a central part, enabling small business to lower their costs and reach new customers in new markets around the country and, indeed, the globe.

As these businesses grow stronger, they make room for new jobs that help America compete in the global technology marketplace. Take eBay, for example, which in its short history has been a force multiplier for economic production, facilitating 60 billion dollars a year in economic activity.

The animating force behind all of these efforts is a shared appreciation for the Internet’s wondrous contributions to our economy and our way of life. Over the past generation we’ve seen American-made Internet innovations connect people across the globe. Social networking tools, online video services, and other new tech haven’t just changed the way we stay in touch -- they’ve helped create a booming sector of unbound creativity and economic opportunity.

I’ve learned a key lesson from these entrepreneurs and their businesses. Their spectacular growth is powered by a core value, one shared by the founders of our nation and the architects of the Internet: restrictions on freedom shackle the human spirit, and constrain the promise of bold, new ventures.

The success of these businesses has made America’s tech economy the envy of the world. These businesses are proof that the Internet’s open principles have helped clear the way for unfettered growth. Changing those principles, or regulating this growing market in a way that disfavors innovation, is unacceptable.

This founding principle -- the openness of the Internet -- is at issue today. Interfering with this growth threatens jobs at a time when Americans can hardly afford the risk.  

This is not just a plan to protect a free and open Internet -- this is a plan to protect jobs, now and in America’s future. It is my responsibility to make sure that the economic and legal environment that allowed these jobs to grow remains just as healthy and competitive for future generations.

I’m proud to oversee the FCC at a moment of unprecedented technological advancement. It’s my responsibility to act as a just steward for America’s technology economy and protect these valuable jobs. I’ve seen what works from some of the most dazzling entrepreneurs America has ever known. It’s my responsibility to fight to uphold the free and open principles that have brought us to where we are -- and I am committed to this goal.

(This is cross-posted on the Open Internet blog. Please leave comments there.)

Posted in From The Chairman Office Of Chairman

Internet Service: Would You Switch – and Why?

Posted December 6th, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

If you’re like many Americans, you may be wondering whether you should keep the Internet service you have in your home. If you have more than one broadband provider in your area, you may be getting a barrage of advertising encouraging you to switch from your current provider to another one. Should you switch – and if so, why?

At the FCC, we’ve done a representative national survey to find out how satisfied consumers are with their Internet service and what goes into the decision to switch or stick with an ISP. We’re releasing the results of that survey today. It shows that Americans are largely pleased with their Internet service, but have some cause for dissatisfaction – and face obstacles that make it hard for them to switch ISPs.

Our survey found that 38 percent of Internet users have changed service providers in the last three years, more than half of them for a reason other than changing residences. The majority of Internet users seem to be satisfied with their service; most people who haven’t switched say they haven’t even considered it seriously. Still, 38 percent is a significant number, and one that deserves further exploration.

What makes people want to change providers? Two things: Price and performance. Nearly a quarter of home Internet users are dissatisfied with the price they pay for service, and 47 percent of those who switched ISPs said price was a major reason. Even more – 49 percent – said that a major reason they switched was to get a faster or higher performance Internet connection.

Moreover, the survey showed that a sizeable number of people would consider switching ISPs if it was easier to do. They’re deterred not only by the hassle, but by financial considerations – the need to put down a new deposit, pay a set-up or installation fee, or pay an early termination fee. Early termination fees are currently less common for ISPs than for cell-phone service, but they’re still a factor.

This survey, together with earlier data we’ve reported, underscores how much consumers need clear information to help them make smart choices about Internet service. Speed is a major factor that leads people to switch ISPs – but how many of us really understand what speed we’re getting? We previously reported that 80 percent of Americans don’t know their broadband speed, and today’s survey found that most say their monthly bills aren’t clear about speed either. If ISPs are going to compete on speed – which will be good for consumers and good for the country’s broadband infrastructure – then consumers need better information on what speed they need and what speeds they’re getting.

The same is true of price and fees. We’ve found previously that many cell-phone customers don’t know the early termination fees that they’re subject to. As some ISPs start instituting these fees as well, they need to ensure that consumers are fully informed and can factor these fees into their decisions.

Competition among ISPs, like competition in other markets, is good for consumers and good for service providers. And clear information will help consumers make the smart choices that allow competition to work.

We’re interested in your own experience: Have you switched ISPs, or thought about doing so? Post a comment to let us know your views.

(This is cross-posted on Blogband. Please leave your comments on switching ISPs there.)

Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers