Consumers and Broadband

The September 9th National Broadband Plan workshop -- moderated by John Horrigan, the Consumer Research Director for the Federal Communications Commission's Omnibus Broadband Initiative -- focused on the Internet consumer. Academics, policy experts and industry participants discussed the challenges and opportunities for Internet consumers as the Internet becomes the focal point of commercial transactions, social networking, and a host of other activities involving information gathering and exchange. Although consumers generally benefit from electronic commerce and online health information, the prospect of sharing financial and personal information with unknown entities raises some serious security concerns.

The workshop examined the broader context of the consumer experience from the perspective of the benefits it confers to consumers, the risks that may be associated with the benefits, and the obligations broadband connectivity may impose on consumers and institutions in an environment of pervasive data sharing and availability.

Panel 1- Evolving Technology: New Challenges for Consumers

Michael R. Nelson, Visiting Professor, Communication, Culture and Technology, Georgetown University
Nelson said that there is a lot more transformation to come from the Internet. The Internet today is like a tween, we are not sure how it will end up so we want to provide it with as many choices as we can. He argued that creating a clear regulatory environment to foster a growth of services is more important than regulating infrastructure and architecture. Soon more than half of the computing will be done in the cloud with other companies' equipment, we will be dealing with a giant worldwide computer, and regulating it would turn into a disaster.

Sascha Meinrath, Director - Open Technology Initiative, New America Foundation
Meinrath started by saying that we must maximize potential of Internet technologies to impact the lives of the rural, poor and underserved. His main focus however was that the FCC has refused to mandate the necessary data collection. Mapping and modeling of the Internet has stalled under the ignorance. We need to know what exactly is happening on the networks today. The current broadband mapping initiative will do far too little to notify us about the problems at the core. Data privatization is disastrous for network science, consumer welfare and policy making. Policy makers are operating in a fog of unknown at the expense of consumers, due to privatization of mundane data.

Joel Kelsey, Policy Analyst, Consumers Union
Kelsley said there are three areas we must focus on:

  1. Cyber crime - last year 1 in 5 were victims of cyber crime. The recession will fuel the fire of online recession related scams. While responsibility to protect against most crimes lies in the arms of the consumer, businesses bear the responsibility as well. Many business databases have been hacked and businesses need to be more careful about collecting and storing consumer data. Congress needs to pass standards and baselines to guard against basic attacks. They need to set protocols for companies to warn consumers when their private information may have been attacked. Finally they must arm consumer with protection through education campaigns.
  2. A majority of consumers are concerned that their personal information and online behavior is being tracked. They rely on benefits, but feel they are paying higher price because they cannot control the data they are turning over. Tracking can lead to vulnerable populations can be targeted and online redlining. Congress again needs to set standards for how information can be gathered, where it shall be stored and for how long.
  3. Deep packet inspections can go beyond passive collection. The collection of information to harm or impede consumers is unacceptable. FCC should address this issue in a rulemaking.

Ari Schwartz, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Center for Democracy and Technology
Schwartz said that users want personalization but see it as a two way street they want to know who gets control of their info. The market so far has failed to realize the basic concerns of consumers. We need flexible but strong rules regarding data collection. ISPs have been gathering consumer analytic data and selling it, then claiming that they are doing it with the consent of their users through obscure sections of their terms of agreement.

Debra Berlyn, President, Consumer Policy Solutions
Berlyn's focus was on the older adult population - Older citizens need Internet just as much as the other demographics. The elderly benefit from surfing the web staying connected, and telemedicine. As many important government forms move online older individuals risk not being able to access this information. Consumers need to feel safe and secure. The National Plan has to show the value of broadband by addressing privacy concerns


What is the right regulatory model? In the tween years you want to instill some values. Statues seems to be the wrong method and self regulatory models probably wont work

  • Meinrath - Make info available so people can make informed decisions about what they want to do with their data.

Although massive transparency can be helpful, consumers rarely look for the disclosures on the 25th page of a manual. What options are better than transparency?

  • Schwartz - Four areas you can look at to address the issues. 1) Technology issues, we come up with tech solutions to solve problems a 2) self regulation, what can industry do with policy procedures to address the issues. This allows the industry to act quickly when its livelihood is threatened. 3) Existing law, enforce existing law and where does the law miss the boat? 4) Education efforts, they no longer work so well

Has technology come up with new innovative to show a consumer how a provider is using their information and why it is important to them?

  • Schwartz - Google add preferences - idea is as the consumer is surfing they tell you the categories of ads they will be targeting at you. When you go to opt out or manage your info you can see all of that information.
  • Nelson - paper on how tech in the cloud can allow for more transparency and trust. Need to find a way to build privacy into it. One way is with immutable audits which allows you to have, audit trial where customer can know where data has been and who has access to it. Competition in the market place will improve this deployment of immutable technology
  • Beryln - long way before we can educate consumer - the Government has room to help here. FTC has the on guard online site.
  • Kelsey - no government policy will end all debate about privacy or data collection online. There are bad behaviors that continue to crop up - broad standards need to apply to privacy but also types of technology deployed within the network itself. Need more granular data about availability, speeds, how networks use deep packet inspection

Is there competition over a race to the top for privacy and data security? Is it happening now?

  • Nelson - says we are not seeing new players come in with new technologies - we are seeing a lot of state regulatory policies in play. His biggest fear is that the duopoly will control what services are offered.

With online privacy there seems to be a much more aggressive approach to problems, with online safety, we hear, government stay out and lets focus on media literacy and consumer education. If there is less faith in consumer education than there used to be, why are you taking these differing views?

  • Schwartz - it is clear there is incentive to build user controlled technology for safety, and they work. Almost every product and browser out there has safety as a number one selling point. Consumers are looking for this. In terms of education it is difficult to figure out how to do online education - they would put more resources into parental education. In the privacy space there is some competition in the browser space and that is basically it. There is a lot of competition in collection of data and using data. There is a different dichotomy between the two.
  • Kelsey - market incentives are different - with safety, it is marketed as how can the browsers ensure your safety. With privacy the incentives are different. Incentives are for online companies at the edge to catch up to the bigger companies. In that area there is a roles for government to get involved because this information is sensitive and there should be a baseline for consumers to get some relief.
  • Berlyn - privacy for consumers means more than just data protection. We should look at online privacy as a broader issue.

Is there a tension between putting locus of control at the edge of the network versus the case that user education is less effective tool as experiences taught in tim. If you empower the edge and the individual on the edge and they are less amenable to user education how do we reconcile that?

  • Nelson - lets build in solutions and players to come to the market with lots of options. Transparency is important as well
  • Schwartz - we have created technologies but we have nto given them the right choices. Today it is all about setting the right defaults. If the solutions are built in we can do education around that.
  • Nelson - we need to think of autonomic regulation - regulations that are built in.

How should we address the tradeoff between privacy and free speech online

  • Meinrath - transparency and control over the data being collected. If you have control of your information, it is entirely different than deciding you want to watch a movie and getting signed up for some random lists. Companies must be explicit about what happened to the information and give the option to opt out of privacy invasive techniques.
  • Kelsey - consumers enjoy and benefit from real-time ads. This is different than tracking consumer's behavior of 6 months. A line must be drawn when information is used in a way consumers do not know about.

Measurement - what mechanisms exist to measure the secondary consumer and societal benefits to broadband? Any proposals for measuring benefits of these broadband products and services?

  • Meinrath - benefit of roads and education are massive for secondary effects, measuring this hard - people concerned with the business models and return on investment is the wrong way to go about it...the secondary and tertiary benefits are the biggest.
  • Nelson - This is an area where you can have the highest impact for the fewest dollars - the FCC should be out collecting this data. The challenge is showing that investing in broadband is more important to other investments.

"Consumers kept in the dark about what choices there are"- what should be illuminated if consumers are in the dark?

  • Meinrath - imaging every gas station didn't have a sign and you just pump and go. There is no place you can go and say, show me all the providers and what exactly are they offering me in terms of guarantees, what is the up speed, how many people are sharing the line in your neighborhood? You can't be informed if you don't have that info. There has been a systematic effort to keep us in the dark about that info.

Are concerns about privacy and broadband limited to how ISPs use private info or how those on the edge use your info? Is the nebu Ad a bigger problem than search engine using cookies?

  • Schwartz - More concern about service provider using that data than an application provider. It is not expected that an ISP will use that data that is not in the user's interest. It is clear that by using a search engine, the data is being used for their benefit.
  • Nelson - on Internet when people get upset, web users can mobilize and put economic pressures on unjust activities.
  • Kelsey - a perception issue, consumers do not expect ISPs to aggregate their data. There is a switching cost with the ISP rather than choosing not to use a search engine.

Panel 2 - Meeting New Challenges: Tools and Techniques

Adam Thierer, Director, Center for Digital Media Freedom and Senior Fellow, Progress and Freedom Foundation
Thierer said, there is a relation between online safety and broadband adoption. Not so much evidence of a strong correlation between parental concerns and broadband uptake. Not every home has children, and houses have rules for media use. Only 32% of homes have children present, moreover not every home has children of a certain age where they are worried about access to the Internet. There are a diverse array of parental control tools, tech innovation is continuing at a very fast pace and the technology is very user friendly and usually free.

Alan Simpson, Director of Policy, Common Sense Media
Simpson talked about education and investment in broadband. He stressed the importance of educating parents and teachers as well as students. The national Broadband Plan should call for digital literacy programs encouraged at all levels. The best role for government is empowerment and education.

Burke Culligan, Senior Director - Product Management, Yahoo!, Inc.
Culligan said 150 million users come to yahoo site per day. Users are bombarded with messages about services to allow them to manage their personal Internet. It is important to give the users the opportunity to personalize their pages so that it works for them. At the same time Yahoo uses back end protection and makes sure that their default settings provide enough security. Yahoo has also decreased the amount of time user identifiable data is stored. Users want protection and the Yahoo wants the users to trust and use them.

Michael W. McKeehan, Executive Director - Internet and Technology Policy, Verizon
Verizon is letting people know what industry is up to. They have created task forces and worked with organizations like the online family safety institute to bring its consumers together.

  1. Provide strong parental control tools and virus protections,
  2. Provide education awareness -- Reaching out to parents and seniors in order to prevent fraud,
  3. Support for law enforcement and their actions in stopping and catching predators.

Timothy Sparapani, Director, Public Policy, Facebook
Sparapani wants the FCC to push forward on broadband deployment and do so forcefully. The Internet eco system relies on fast reliable service. Consumers and businesses are relying on Facebook. It is an engine for growth and innovation - consumers want new goods and services and Facebook is the platform to access these new applications. Facebook is a place where public engages in true civic discourse. Government has become increasingly reliant on Facebook and everyone will engage more deeply with constituents through Facebook.


When providing tools for consumers for networks with network packages what percentage of consumers are using the tools? What is necessary for a successful broadband plan? More than media literacy? What does government need to do? What data do we need to look at?

  • Simpson - Common Sense Schools program was launched last year. The quick uptake of these programs normally happen in wealthier schools, the late adopters though are where the kids will need the resources the most. Without help and prodding, we need schools to patch their programs, no one wants a mandated curriculum, but they need resources and teacher training
  • McKeehan - the mistake is in school districts not saving space in their curriculum and having a situation where schools will end up having to give up biology.

Education is important but is less effective than it was a couple years ago? Since earlier adopters are wealthier schools - how have tools developed for those whose attention is scarce? Is there a trade off between biology and digital literacy? What efforts to integrate these two together?

  • Simpson - new territory - if not cutting time into bio, where do we fit this program - how do we make lessons fit into many different classes? What do you teach kids about how they get information and how they cite and the purpose of authorship? How are we teaching privacy to kids that are putting bad pictures on Facebook? Their sense of privacy is changing because fo this technology and the way we educate them must change.
  • Thierer - expectations have changed over time - disconnect between older generation and kids. Need to boil down to core principles over what can be expected. Some people want to give a lot of information away, this is a changing expectation. We need to adapt.

The big ticket item is media literacy - looking at schools and localities - empowering educators, is this the next step?

  • Sparapani - We hear about sensationalized data, we do not hear that people share 1 billion of pieces of info about themselves per day. Kids get it a lot more than parents think.

When you share quiz information on Facebook, where does it go?

  • Sparapani - When you initialize an application through Facebook, you are going to a completely separate company. They have separate rules and you have agreed to privacy terms of that application. Read fine print before you say yes. Facebook cannot police the millions of applications that are out there.

Has Facebook experimented with ways to show fine print to 12 year olds to advise them of the consequences?

  • Sparapani - if anything happens on an application it will take away from Facebook's good name, so they do monitor. FTC and AGs should police. Facebook also provides an important popup, it has a doom and gloom message - BEWARE! Allow people do disable applications at any point.

Are there examples as to which media literacy outreaches have been most successful? Media to help educate about changes in technology and how to protect themselves.

  • Thierer - means a lot to different people. Ex Smokey the bear, hoot the owl - Government used media to address problem but they need a metric to analyze success. Awareness provided a great solution to many of these problems like littering. On guard online addresses the cyber security issues and helps build awareness. There is a scarcity of attention and when you get consumer attention, you want to drive them to something good. Drive people to one location to hammer it home.
  • Simpson - digital literacy and citizenship - citizenship - is about what kids do and their behavior - rules of the road for their conduct and ethics, hence why it needs to be localized. Agree that negatives we hear about are sensationalized - for the purpose of broadband plan and getting those to adopt broadband the same late adopters may be the most worried about the sensationalized stories.
  • McKeehan - when talking about child safety we loose site of the fact of how good this is for society - what we really talk about is helping people find the good stuff. Broadband is good and there are tools that help you find the good stuff. End users create their own content. Kids need to understand the rules of the road and that is the media literacy.

Consensus definition - like a homeowner's association meeting - folks concerned about speeding in the neighborhood. 90% of people in the neighborhood were going the speed limit. The 10% zipping though the neighborhood are going to create the real problem. Issue seems to be about, what is the vulnerable population and how to reach out to the vulnerable population? What can industry do to fix the vulnerable population?

  • Thierer - frustrated as a parent/ policy maker. There is never one solution. We need a diversity of tools and methods for a diverse playbook. Give each family a chance to dictate what they need. Problem is not so much predation as it is peer to peer bullying.
  • McKeehan - kids being risky online are the same as kids being risky offline
  • Sparapani - Facebook will be rolling out and interstitial which will force a conversation about settings. There will be that moment when a user will confront how their data can be shared.