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Friday, September 8 • 10:07am - 10:40am
Disclosures on Network Management Practices and Performance of Broadband Service

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This research addresses the following question: “Do customers understand network management practices and performance characteristics disclosed by broadband Internet access service providers?” Disclosures are required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in its Open Internet ruling. Court support for transparency requirements was not based on reclassification of BIAS providers as common carriers, thus these requirements are likely to remain even if the new FCC administration rules back re-classification.

The research is based on four test surveys answered by 3,024 Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (M-Turk) participants in the US. Surveys included questions related to the disclosures from the following four fixed and mobile Broadband Internet Access Service (BIAS) providers–one survey for each provider–AT&T, Comcast, Cox and T-Mobile. M-Turk participants were randomly assigned one of the four surveys. (Footnote: The numbers in this abstract are preliminary and will change as more responses come in.)

80% of the participants in the survey understand the purpose of the BIAS disclosures, i.e., to provide information of the BIAS provider’s network management practices and performance characteristics so customers can make informed decisions about the BIAS offers.

However, only half of the participants understand what network congestion is. Participants tend to associate network congestion with how they individually use their BIAS rather than how a group of users is collectively using their provider’s local infrastructure. Network congestion is generally associated with specific types of traffic, like video streaming, and not with periods of peak usage.

For mobile BIAS, 50% and 60% of participants in T-Mobile and ATT’s survey, respectively, associate network congestion with crowded places.

Participants only partially comprehend the network management practices implemented by BIAS providers. Less than 12% of the participants were able to recognize all the network management practices described in the disclosure.

Most participants do not understand characteristics of network management practices such as buffer tuning or Binge On™, used by mobile BIAS providers, AT&T and T-Mobile, respectively. Only 6% for AT&T and 16% for T-Mobile, recognize all the characteristics explained in the disclosures as network management practices.

A non-negligible percentage of participants, between 15% and 25%, depending on the BIAS provider, except for AT&T, answered that latency has nothing to do with Internet performance, and some answered that latency is critical for e-mail service quality. 90% of participants in AT&T’s survey understand the concept of latency to some extent, relating it with the performance of voice and video conferencing services, or periods of congestion.

With regards to speed, most participants, above 80%, understand its relationship with Internet performance, mainly when engaged in video conferencing or online gaming.

Less than 50% of the participants, after reading a disclosure, understand the factors that can lead to poor connection performance, such as WiFi connections, the server hosting the content or application, a network interconnected with the customer BIAS provider’s network, and technical specifications of the device used to access the Internet. However, most participants, above 75%, do understand from the disclosures that the BIAS provider does not have complete end-to-end control of the service it provides.

Regarding mobile BIAS, 80% of the participants understand that unlimited plans do not mean that there are no data caps. However, only half of the participants understand the consequences of exceeding such data cap, e.g., reduced speed, higher latencies, etc.

In conclusion, based on this research, the disclosures fail to achieve the goal of informing the consumer so that he/she can make better choices. Very few participants, comprehend all the network management practices implemented by BIAS providers. Consequences of complex practices such as buffer tuning and Binge On™ are not understood by more than 80% of the participants in the survey.

Based on the above results and conclusions, disclosures should be re-designed to achieve their objective, i.e., inform the customer of the provider’s network management practices and performance characteristics in language that customers can understand so as to make informed decisions.


Patrick Sun

Industry Economist, FCC


Juan Manuel Roldan

Carnegie Mellon University

Friday September 8, 2017 10:07am - 10:40am EDT
ASLS Hazel Hall - Room 329