June 23, 2011 at 10:27 AM ET
Consumers confused by all the different claims about 4G speed may soon get help cutting through marketing hype and clutter thanks to a proposed bill that would wrangle information from the country's cellphone carriers.
Coinciding with the President's goal of bringing wireless service to at least 98 percent of Americans within five years (why not go for 100 percent, Obama?), the 11-page Next Generation Wireless Disclosure Act would make mobile phone carriers explain how fast 4G really is to make informed decisions.
Democrat Anna G. Eshoo representing Silicon Valley's Palo Alto, who sits on the U.S. House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, announced the proposed bill as a way to give consumers the straight scoop on speeds, hidden charges, price and volume of data sent and received, and whether it's worth it before signing or switching plans. In the Congresswoman's official announcement, the rationale goes like this:
As more consumers use their smartphones, tablets and other wireless devices to stream video and other data-intensive apps and services, speed really matters. Americans are excited about the latest generation of advanced wireless broadband, commonly referred to as "4G," but without a standard definition of the technology, consumers often experience vastly different speeds depending on the wireless provider and location. This legislation aims to ensure that consumers have complete and accurate information about the speed of 4G service before committing to a plan. The bill also helps consumers understand network reliability, coverage and pricing.
Within the bill itself, Eshoo goes after the lack of consistency amongst wireless carriers:
The 4 largest wireless service providers advertise 4G service using different wireless mobile broadband technologies, including LTE (Long Term Evolution), WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access), and HSPA+ (Evolved High Speed Packet Access). Although the International Telecommunication Union has expanded its definition of 4G service to include these technologies, theoretical peak speeds and actual speeds experienced by consumers vary widely across technologies and service providers.
Whether or not you actually take the time out to read it, the legislation would provide consumers with the following information at the point of sale and in all billing materials:
Lauded for its intention of transparency and accuracy in reporting, Eshoo's proposal comes with endorsements from several consumer groups, including the Consumers Union and Public Knowledge.