Principles for a Successful IP Transition: Trustworthiness

As technology moves forward, consumers must retain key protections that ensure a fair and safe experience. This includes, but is not limited to, consumer protections like privacy, truth-in-billing, blocking unwanted solicitation and preventing cramming and slamming. Consumer protections are largely seen as being built into traditional telephone networks. Will they continue as we transition to broadband networks? Part of the issue, said Olivia Wein of the National Consumer Law Center, is that consumers will have the expectation that their protections — whether it’s stopping unwanted calls and unsolicited charges or “truth-in-billing” provisions that warn consumers about escalating monthly wireless bills — remain the same. Since the average person has no idea about the underlying network, they will be befuddled by any change. She said there needs to be “a solid and consistent” regulatory regime in place. “If companies don’t like that, maybe they should go into a different business,” she said. Advocates for children and senior citizens are especially concerned about a possible loss of regulations that could compromise these vulnerable populations. Curbing of online predators that operate financial scams against the elderly or threaten children is key to ensuring people feel safe to participate in the transition. “Children are going to be online more and . . . want to know what is happening,” said Eileen Espejo, Children Now’s Director of Media and Health Policy. “Parents especially need to be educated on how to protect their children’s privacy.” Tobey Dichter of Generations on Line agreed. “You can’t make assumptions that people understand these terms,” she said. Just creating an online registry to prevent scamming, for example, is not a solution for elderly populations. “Don’t assume everyone is going to sign up online,” she stated. “That population is really not [going to sign up online], especially [lower income seniors].” Tom Kamber of Older Adults Technology Services stressed the need to inform the public about any rule changes that govern online behavior in an all-Internet Protocol (IP) world. He calls for a balance of education and regulation to maximize the benefits of new technology and believes it would be useful to look for new ways to enforce existing laws to reduce criminal activity. For example, he noted New York has prosecuted those who target the elderly in financial schemes using the Internet under hate crime laws. In addition, concerns have been expressed that states will lose their ability to oversee consumer protection resulting from the switch to IP-enabled networks. While a report by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners emphasizes that the 1996 Telecommunications Act ensures that state regulators have a role to play in overseeing telecommunications services, states have seen their role diminish as the FCC has moved to a more limited and centralized regulatory scheme. At its January 30 open meeting, the Federal Communications Commission will propose a series of experiments utilizing all-IP networks. Those experiments will allow the networks, their users, the FCC and the public to assess the impact and potential of all-IP networks on consumers, customers and businesses in all parts of our country. In a recent blog post about the FCC's agenda, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote, "The best way to speed technology transitions is to incent network investment and innovation by preserving the enduring values that consumers and businesses have come to expect." He identified consumer protection as one of those key values. We've been spending the last few days looking at the 10 interrelated principles for a successful IP transition identified in our new report, The New Network Compact: Making the IP Transition Work for Vulnerable Communities. Previous posts explored Ubiquity, Accessibility, Diversity, Openness, Competition and Interconnection. Look for discussions of additional principles later this week.