Broadband Bill of Rights

High-speed internet is no longer a luxury. It’s a fundamental service in developed nations. Individuals rely on internet access for countless activities: communications, shopping, jobs and schoolwork, news, information. Businesses rely on the internet to attract and interact with customers.

Many articles offer suggestions to fix the state of broadband internet. Most are highly biased. Articles written from the perspective of the consumer speak of an entitlement to broadband, complaining bitterly about even the most trivial reductions in service. Articles written from the perspective of the service providers speak of wasteful consumers who threaten to crash networks and bankrupt the businesses.

To protect consumers and businesses – and preserve productivity – we need a Broadband Bill of Rights. Here is my suggestion.

Article 1: Consumers have the right to unlimited internet access, but do not have the right to unlimited internet access for a fixed price.

There shall be no caps on the use of internet. You shall be entitled to download anything, anytime. However, you do not have the right to unlimited use at a fixed price. Broadband providers shall be free to charge based on your use of the internet. If they want to offer unlimited packages for a fixed price, that’s great. But there shall be no government mandate to offer fixed price, unlimited internet.

Article 2: All legal content is created equal.

There shall be no discrimination in terms of network traffic. All legal communications shall have full and equal access to the network. Network providers shall be forbidden from any traffic shaping that discriminates based on the type of communications. Especially for competing services such as voice and television. Peer-to-peer file sharing of legal content such as Linux distributions shall also be protected.

Article 3: Consumers have the right to reliable service.

If the broadband provider does not meet the promised level of service, you shall be entitled to a refund. The promised level of service shall include both a speed guarantee and an uptime guarantee. The refund shall be granted automatically – customers need not ask for a refund. And if a provider is consistently failing to meet its guarantees, you shall be entitled to terminate your contract without any penalties.

Article 4: No exclusive or locked hardware.

All hardware shall be enabled to work on compatible networks. Furthermore, no network provider may have an exclusive contract to sell a particular hardware device. For instance, the Apple iPhone shall be sold only as an unlocked phone that can be used on any compatible GSM network, and Apple shall make the iPhone available to competing GSM network operators such as T-Mobile USA. However, network providers may continue to offer discounted hardware in return for a long-term service contract. Furthermore, a hardware vendor is not required to make its hardware available for all network technologies. For instance, Apple may continue to offer the iPhone exclusively for GSM networks – Apple is not required to offer a CDMA version of the iPhone.

Article 5: The pricing plan shall be plain and clear.

There shall be no hidden fees. When there is an introductory discount, the regular rate shall be clearly written in all promotional and pricing information.

Article 6: A customer may terminate a contract without penalty if the operator makes changes to the contract terms.

At the time a contract is started, the network operator shall spell out all its charges for the duration of the contract. If the network operator makes any changes to the costs or services during the period of the contract, the customer shall have the opportunity to terminate the contract without penalty.

Article 7: No usage-based pricing without monitoring tools.

If a network operator offers a use-based pricing plan, they shall provide clear tools to monitor the bandwidth use and costs incurred. This requirement is waived for unlimited use plans.

Article 8: Government shall foster broadband competition.

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