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Government Wireless Networking Politics

Bill Would Make Carriers Publish 4G Data Speeds 99

Posted by samzenpus
from the show-me-the-numbers dept.
GovTechGuy writes "A new bill from Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) would force wireless carriers to provide consumers with information on the minimum data speeds for their 4G networks at both the point of sale as well as on all billing materials. The bill would also task the FCC with compiling a Consumer Reports-style comparison of the 4G data speeds at the top ten wireless carriers so customers can view a side-by-side comparison."
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Bill Would Make Carriers Publish 4G Data Speeds

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  • Area? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Fusen (841730)
    Minimum data speeds? Surely it depends on the device you are using and the area you are in...The bill obviously has good intentions but it'll be hard to maintain the info.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Surely it depends on the device you are using and the area you are in...

      And? Are you saying these companies don't have that info? Please...

      The bill obviously has good intentions but it'll be hard to maintain the info.

      Boohoo?

      • by psiclops (1011105)

        And? Are you saying these companies don't have that info? Please...

        Yes they do, as does everyone, i'll tell you know, the minmum speed for all of them is 0.

        GP was correct in that the speed you actually recieve will be anywhere between there and their maximum speed depending on your device and coverage.

        • by jrumney (197329)
          My guess is that what the politicians are really interested in is the contention rate - or the maximum download speed you can expect with a perfect signal at the busiest time of day. Minimum download speed is uninteresting, it not only depends on your distance from towers and the device you are using, but network congestion everywhere between you and your destination, so the only valid value that could be advertised is zero.
      • The bill obviously has good intentions but it'll be hard to maintain the info.

        Boohoo?

        Seems like "hardships" on companies usually just means hardships (no quotes) on the consumers' wallets.

        "Due to intrusive federal regulations, we have been forced to do excessive monitoring of our network and publish the results. This has resulted in a $5 increase per month on your cell phone bill.

        And, uh, those other miscellaneous charges were also due to big government... yeah..."

        I say do it anyway, misleading marketing is misleading marketing and should be stamped out, but I'm calling it now tha

        • Re:Area? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by i_b_don (1049110) on Wednesday June 22, 2011 @07:08PM (#36536204)

          So fucking what?

          Do we also pay for listing the octane quantity on the sides of gas stations? Do we also pay for the calorie labels on the sides of food? The reporting of fuel economy of cars before you buy them? I'll take that cost any-day.

          I can't believe anyone would bitch and moan about this. This is an awesome idea. This is what regulation should be, forcing clear and equal reporting of information about a product so the customer can make the best informed decision possible.

          The only sad thing about this bill is that brilliance like this doesn't occur more often in politics.

          This is a great idea!

          d

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            I can't believe anyone would bitch and moan about this. This is an awesome idea.

            it is any awesome idea but it's also not practical. speeds / latency vary by the tens of feet in cities, and depends on the weather, and how many trucks are parked around you. seriously, any sort of guarantee would be meaningless.

            don't get me wrong, of course service is completely sub par for many americans, but writing such a bill isn't going to magically quadruple the deployed mobile broadband hardware to a state where such a guarantee will mean something.

            • by Shompol (1690084)
              Same principle applies as when reporting net weight on packages. The actual weight varies from package to package. Fortunately, regulators have a tool to combat this "chaos": STATISTICS 101! I was told that the actual rule for reporting package weight is "no more than 20% of the product can fall below the claimed weight". Easy, right? But the magic does not stop here: the agency (competitor/prosecutor/overzealous customer) makes N 100's of samples, which might or might not come out short of the claimed w
          • I can't believe anyone would bitch and moan about this. This is an awesome idea.

            1. You'll notice I wasn't bitching or moaning about it so much as making a cynical prediction, while still endorsing the plan.
            2. If you can't believe someone would bitch and moan about something... welcome to the internet!

          • by uncqual (836337)

            Do we also pay for listing the octane quantity on the sides of gas stations? Do we also pay for the calorie labels on the sides of food? The reporting of fuel economy of cars before you buy them?

            Yes - but the cost is hidden in the price you pay for the product and is probably quite minimal.

        • by sjames (1099)

          If there's not a government "hardship" for them to charge for, they'll just say there is anyway, so we might as well get something for it./

          If they weren't such rapacious lying weasels, they wouldn't have to deal with stuff like this.

    • The speed you can get also depends on the wireless propagation channel. If you're right next to a cell tower you get a lower error rate than if you're in a shadow, fade or something like that.
      • by EdIII (1114411)

        The speed on the report can also depend on the testing software, testing environment, etc.

        It's not like companies far and wide have not set up tests, or altered units, etc. to obtain the results that look the best. It's about presenting a plate of crap as an expensive Surf & Turf meal.

        10 years ago, I remember that AT&T would give you the speeds (if you asked the technical people) but those were speeds that were measured at tower use rates of less than 20%. I was told that Verizon gave you the spee

      • by i_b_don (1049110)

        I don't see how this is a problem... just make the reported bandwidth a statistical number. For example, the average data speed of each customer is X... or the 10th percentile and 90th percentile data rate for every packet of information. If a phone company only pays for towers that are in non-ideal locations so their customers more often see crappy signal strength, then that should be apparent in the information provided. This is not a flaw in reporting, but something that we should see in the data.

        This

    • by mjwx (966435)

      Minimum data speeds? Surely it depends on the device you are using and the area you are in...The bill obviously has good intentions but it'll be hard to maintain the info.

      Hmmm, other nations seem to have no problem with this.

      From Big Pong [bigpond.com], Australia's worst telco,

      Speed: Typical download speeds are from 1.1Mbps to 20Mbps in all capital city

      Honesty in advertising is really hard and it sucks for consumers. We would all be better off if they kept lying to us.

      • by Fusen (841730)
        so as long as they say "from zero up to the maximum we have advertised" then it's sufficient? seems pretty pointless.
        • by mjwx (966435)

          so as long as they say "from zero up to the maximum we have advertised" then it's sufficient? seems pretty pointless.

          Uh, no.

          That's pretty stupid as they dont give you an idea of minimum typical speeds. What Helstra (mentioned above in my GP post) does say is that if it's working, you will likely get between 1.1 and 8 Mb/s.

          I dont quite get your logic here, you're saying off should be listed as a working speed? Something about that seems wrong.

          What user cares about that? You've got to think about it from the end users perspective, they want to know is what speeds to expect when they are using it.

          • by Fusen (841730)
            If I'm in doors within an old building with thick walls I may only be able to get 5kB/s If I'm in a sports stadium and it's half time with everyone trying to use their phone at the same time, I may get 0kB/s and not be able to do anything. Both of these are true "minimum" speeds that can happen fairly frequently. What it sounds like the bill should be asking for is the average data speed.
            • by RobNich (85522)

              The average would be just as useless as a "minimum". Throughput is based on your device's chipset, firmware, antenna configuration, possibly battery charge, sunspots, interference, orientation, height, location, network load, specific tower, distance from tower, tower load, and probably more. Hell, latency can affect throughput. No single average throughput number would ever be useful. Ever.

      • From Big Pong [bigpond.com], Australia's worst telco,

        I thought that was Telstra.

  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Wednesday June 22, 2011 @06:06PM (#36535602) Homepage

    With AT&T's 3G, the latency is so bad that it feels far slower than the speed would imply. I think just publishing the speed is only a small part of the overall picture.

    • They should probably be forced to publish all that info. And why just 4g? That seems rather stupid to limit it only to that service. They should be providing accurate numbers to their customers rather than those coverage maps they show that are mostly total lies.

      • by dgatwood (11270)

        The coverage maps aren't lies. They're just useless because they don't provide nearly high enough granularity, don't account for variations in handsets, and don't take into account whether you are in a building or not.

        Odds are good that in most of the places where they claim to have a signal, you can get a signal, so long as you have a good handset and are outdoors. The problem is that with a typical handset, indoors, you can't. Sure, the wall is only... say an 8dB difference, and the handset is just ano

    • by Xtravar (725372)

      They should be forced to *adhere* to a standard definition. Nobody's going to actually read this published crap except a few lone nerds. This is mostly pointless regulation.

      • by Mystiq (101361)
        They should be forced to adhere to a standard definition, agreed. But why, then, do all other internet companies always tell you their "up to" speed and wireless carriers never do? Even when all carriers adhere to a standard, much like, say, Time Warner and Cablevision, that doesn't mean they're deploying it exactly the same way.

        I would be much happier if they were only allowed to call real 4G as 4G and not 3.14159G as 4G. If the bill included something like they have to give speeds for the phone in, say,
        • by BitZtream (692029)

          I would be much happier if they were only allowed to call real 4G as 4G and not 3.14159G as 4G.

          What is 'real 4g'? Don't bother answering, you can't, cause you don't know, because it doesn't actually have a definition, so you can't tell them they aren't providing 4g.

          Thats why its called '2g' or '3g' or whatever. Its so devoid of useful meaning that you can not possibly prove the telco wrong or call them a liar.

          My bass boat uses 6g equipment. By 6g I mean its the 6th prototype board I've made for it that includes a zigbee for communications, I'm just as accurate as the telco's but I assure you, you'

          • by Mystiq (101361)
            LTE Advanced is a proposed standard for "Real 4G" for wireless carriers. AT&T will be rolling it out first, I believe. In any case, that's not what I really care about. I did say 4G is pretty meaningless. They used to be just phone providers but they've already turned into internet service providers and should be treated as such. I want to know what kind of speed I can expect. If you read the article, the drivel from the phone company representative is priceless.

            However, a group representing the wireless industry was less enthusiastic, arguing the new rules would oversimplify a complex issue.

            “We are concerned that the bill proposes to add a new layer of regulation to a new and exciting set of services, while ignoring the fact that wireless is an inherently complex and dynamic environment in which network speeds can vary depending on a wide variety of factors," said CTIA—The Wireless Association vice president of government affairs Jot Carpenter.

            "Congress should resist calls to impose new regulations and instead focus on the real issue, which is making sure that America’s wireless carriers have sufficient spectrum to lead the world in the race to deploy 4G services.”

            We're not leading the world in anything

        • by Xtravar (725372)

          But why, then, do all other internet companies always tell you their "up to" speed and wireless carriers never do?

          Some people are still lucky to even HAVE data plans. Data is relatively new to the phone-carrying populace, and so 3G to them just means "fast enough internet for my iPhone" because before 3G, we all accidentally hit the web button on our Motorola RAZRs and found out how goddamn slow it was.

          In that sense, now that wireless carriers are becoming internet service providers rather than phone service providers, being clear about speed will start to matter more.

          The phone companies are trying to avoid any intern

          • Otherwise, let's regulate what 4G means.

            The most logical definition is 4 Gbit/s, but that won't be achieved anytime soon.

    • The issue here is the use of 4G branding and advertising "4G speeds" when that phrase is completely meaningless other than "it's faster than 3G"

      Just glancing at the wiki page for 4G, I can see that LTE Advanced defines a peak down speed of 1Gbps, Mobile WiMAX at 128Mbps, and with ATT's HSPA+ at 56Mbps. Just throwing the term 4G means nothing and only serves to confuse customers. It's a buzzword.

    • by rcpitt (711863) on Thursday June 23, 2011 @12:17AM (#36538226) Homepage Journal
      While you're talking about latency - take a look at Bufferbloat [bufferbloat.net] and the stuff pertaining to wireless networks in general and cell-data in particular.

      Much of today's cell tower equipment is installed with no queue management turned on - and 100% retry "forever" (or at least a long period of time, longer than the 2 seconds it takes TCP/IP sessions to decide a packet didn't get there and resend, causing cascading congestion) and loads of buffer space to the point where latency is measured in 10s of seconds in some cases.

      A carrier that actually takes advantage of the queue management built into the edge equipment can make their network faster and "feel" faster, and cut down on the actual amount of data they carry - but many (most?) don't have a clue.

      For those interested in diving deeper - take a look at the Bufferbloat mail list and for want of a better one, this post by Jonathan Morton that speaks of 3G [bufferbloat.net]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    But if he has can make them do this, then more power to him.

  • Easy Peasy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BBF_BBF (812493)
    It's completely useless, the minimum GUARANTEED transfer speed will the same for all carriers: 0 bits per second

    Stupid non-technical congresswoman doesn't realize that wireless connections can have dead spots, so claiming any more than 0 would be fraud. :rolleyes:
    • by psyque (1234612)
      Hopefully it's worded in a way that specifies minimum transfer speed from the service providers servers. Not taking into account service area or other environmental factors. Basically making it a "This is the maximum amount we'll throttle you" Bill. I doubt it though.
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Yeah, just like MPG on car labels is always 0 since you might be driving the car flipped over.

      The reasonable congresswoman knows that this is the type of data the providers already have, and regularly track. It is tested in labs and in the field.

      • by LurkerXXX (667952)

        Psst, no company ever posts a minimum MPG on a car. None of them. Ever.

        They post averages. Those are useful. Maximum 4g speed for the phone would also be good because some phone companies (AT&T) label several phones 4g, even though some of them use slower protocols than others.

        The congresswoman is not reasonable. She doesn't understand the minimum, which she asked for, is useless.

        Average for an area would be good. Maximum would also be good to publish. Minimum is useless.

        • by Shompol (1690084)

          Maximum is what they currently advertise: they achieved it once. in a lab. was probably a speed-o-meter glitch. How is maximum useful beyond scamming customers is beyond me.

          Minimum is what used for labeling package weights at a grocery store. It works.

          Average is kinda useful too. However, if the "average" is everywhere but in my neighborhood, where I consistently get 6..30 Kbps (my actual number from AT&T two years ago)? What exactly does the Average mean for me and my expensive two year contract? Exa

        • by dkf (304284)

          Average for an area would be good.

          The best would be the mode, i.e., the speed that customers are most likely to see. The median would also be good. They're also not that easy to scam (except by outright lying, which it's a bit too easy to be caught in).

    • by Daetrin (576516)
      And technically speaking the minimum mpg for a car is zero (or perhaps undefined) since cars can have breakdowns, and failing to perform regular maintenance will screw over your average as well. Yet somehow we manage to have at least somewhat useful guidelines on what the mileage is for cars. There is some base level of minimum competency that even the government can and has met in the past. I think it's pretty silly to assume that they're going to get tripped up by something that obvious.
      • The EPA estimated city and highway mileage rates aren't referred to as the minimum, though. If there was legislation to require car manufacturers to publish their "guaranteed minimum" mileage, that would have to be zero as well. "Average driving conditions" isn't the same black and white rule set this poorly written bill is referring to.
    • +1.

      None of the land line ISPs could guarantee that their connection speeds would always be greater than 0 either, and cable/fiber is a lot more dependable than wireless. Even at five nines any claim other than 0 would be false. Legislation like this is totally inane.

      In my own little cynical version of reality I hope this bill passes and all of the providers put 0 bits per second as the minimum data rate on all of their phones, just to poke fun at the bureaucratic world we live in.
    • by nzac (1822298)

      You know what she means and so does she. There will be someone at some stage in making this law that will know the correct term to replace just 'minimum' with (I would think something like minimum average sustained download speed would be better).

      What she does fail to account for is the speed drop when SNR to the tower is low or the channel crap negatively effecting the speed that makes this bill hard to give meaningful figures.

      If you averaged the average minimum speed across all costumers in an area I woul

    • by Dutchmaan (442553)
      How about minimum average dowload speed given normal conditions over the period of say a month...
    • Re:Easy Peasy (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 22, 2011 @09:04PM (#36537146)

      Anna Eshoo is probably more technically competent than you are legally competent.

      If you actually look at the proposed legislation, it defines minimum speed at follows:

      "The guaranteed minimum transmit and receive data rates for Internet protocol packets to and from on-network hosts for the service, expressed in megabits per second. For purposes of the preceding sentence, a minimum data rate is not guaranteed unless it is available for a percentage of the time in a calendar month to be established by the Commission."

      As you can see, the bill is only talking about rates for hosts on the network. If you are in a dead spot, you are not connected to the network and do not figure into the calculations.

    • You could define a standard for "minimum" speed. Say bottom 10th percentile speed for connected devices in their "service" range. The government could monitor this directly, or much better, could provide an app that people could (voluntarily) load onto their phones that would occasionally measure the bandwidth. If it providers bandwidth maps of the area I bet a lot of people would be happy to use it.

      Its not perfect, but it is much better than the present system where speeds are essentially a guaranteed MAXI

  • Explain this.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Why shouldn't this be regulated under the category of "fair business practice?"
    In California, some businesses are already certified through uniform weights and measurement requirements for their products.
    (bottom line, let the customer make an informed and accurate/measurable decision based on validated information, instead of hype)

    I'm sure the telco trolls will throw every lame excuse they can muster to discredit the intent of the proposed legislation.

  • by FunkSoulBrother (140893) on Wednesday June 22, 2011 @06:25PM (#36535772)

    I'd rather see them have to include the bandwidth cap on the plan, paired with how much use at max speed per day this allows you. People should be able to see that 2GB = 64 MB / day = however quick that phone/4G plan can suck down 64MB

    • by KiloByte (825081)

      Fair advertising would label that as 6kbps with 56Mbps/1Mbps burst (if the link is 56Mb up 1MB down, 2GB monthly cap).

  • I know I'm in the minority, but I'd rather see an advertisement for low latency than high speed. Tethering my phone to my laptop and using SSH over Sprint's 3G is an experience I wish to avoid. (Ironically, 1RTTX seems to have lower latency than 3G.)

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Even for ssh?
      I have had no problems using ssh with 500ms of latency. Annoying, but not a real hindrance to getting work done.

  • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Wednesday June 22, 2011 @06:48PM (#36535988)
    Sounds great! Why aren't WIRED carriers included?
    • Sounds great! Why aren't WIRED carriers included?

      Um...because TFA and the bill are talking specifically about 4G wireless networks, not your home provider.

  • This sounds like the perfect thing for a Consumer Protection agency to do. Kind of like the one currently running headless because Republicans are blocking the confirmation of it's head (along with a whole lot of other nominations).
  • Prepare to see "We have enacted a $1.99 monthly fee to allow us to comply with the disclosure and metering requirements in the "2011 Data Speeds Act" from the FCC.
  • Do they even have a definition for 4G yet? Er, one that anyone implements, that is? Certainly the term was introduced before it had any meaning, so if the government tries to regulate the term, I can only assume that we'd see the introduction of newer, vaguer-but-cooler-sounding terms the next day. 5G would be the obvious choice. What is 5G? A lot like 4G, but without those pesky speed guarantees, and with more shiny, happy advertisements attached. Look, shiny!

  • There's four main carriers and a few small market players. Are they talking about including the mobile virtual network operators like Virgin and Boost?

  • by krishkrish (1964062) on Wednesday June 22, 2011 @07:35PM (#36536414)

    Are there 10 carriers left in a given market?

    If they would have not allowed the mega mergers no body would need such list. Competition would have made sure that they beat each other,

    • by hedwards (940851)

      I don't think there are. At least around here we've only got 4 carriers if you exclude the carriers which are owned by one of the major carriers, and that's assuming that the AT&T T-Mobile merger doesn't complete.

  • Please kill the ridiculous data pricing plans, and for fuck's sake, don't charge me extra for tethering if I'm already paying for each bit!

  • * Your actual speed may be slower due to network conditions, phone and hardware, signal strength and other factors
  • by nurb432 (527695) on Wednesday June 22, 2011 @07:55PM (#36536620) Homepage Journal

    You can exceed your limit on most any 'tiered' data plan pretty easily now, so does speed ratings really matter all that much?

  • For a second there I thought Mr. Gates was explaining what he'd do if he were in charge....
  • I would think that the best set of data would be:
    1. 1. Maximum Speed
    2. 2. Average Speed
    3. 3. Average sustained speed (for large transfers)
    4. 4. Average latency

    I would also like to see some consumer protection and recourse for the customer who falls well below the averages, lets say 1 standard deviation, since they are not getting what they are paying for. This will never happen because this data would actually help the consumer and create a more free and open market for competition since large corporations prefer to

  • Clearly this guy knows as much about wireless technology as do the lawmakers demanding higher fuel economy without knowing if it's even possible. What's he going to do when people whine that they're not getting the posted data rates because Lulzsec fired a denial-of-service attack? Simple answer: class-action lawsuit followed by more government regulation. In other words, the lawyers will be getting rich and the consumers will be getting coupons for discounts on phone accessories.

  • "provide consumers with information on the minimum data speeds for their 4G networks"

    The minimum is 0kbps.

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