The Consumers' International together with the Computer Professionals' Union is conducting a research campaign to address key issues related to broadband services.
Holding Broadband Service Providers to Account aims to empower consumer organisations around the world to demand more equitable and accessible broadband service offerings, respecting consumers' rights and broader human rights, as a necessary condition of achieving a socially-inclusive information society.
The study addresses the following key issues on broadband services.
For example, services are often advertised as allowing “unlimited” usage, yet are actually subject to an unadvertised Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). Other times “free” offers are made without full disclosure of the conditions that must be met to qualify for them.
Similarly, download caps and excess usage charges are often included in broadband contracts without clear notice to consumers, or are not itemised on bills. Sometimes exit fees are also imposed, not for cost recovery, but to impede consumers from moving to competing providers.
Unfair contractual terms
Consumers have no genuine opportunity to negotiate the terms under which they acquire broadband services. Under these circumstances, it is unfair for providers to include terms which allow them, for example, to unilaterally alter contracts, to suspend services, or to limit liability for refunds.
Broadband providers should have a documented complaint handling process that is notified to consumers. It should incorporate provision for both internal escalation and independent external review.
Consumer privacy is under attack both by corporate and government interests. On the first count, subscriber data is misused for marketing purposes. On the second, some countries are denying consumers the right to act anonymously online, although they may have legitimate reasons to do so.
Surveillance and data retention
Surveillance and data retention practices are a concern to consumers who fear reprisal for acts of democratic dissent or whistle-blowing, or the exposure of sensitive information such as their medical or psychological conditions, sexual preferences, or religious observances.
Filtering and censorship
Similarly, while consumers do have an interest in voluntary mechanisms to control the content their family can access online, they are poorly served by blanket policies of filtering or censorship that may be imposed by governments or the private sector.
Worse still are policies that would have consumers struck off the Internet in response to allegations that they have misused their broadband connection for sharing copyright files. Such disproportionate and indiscriminate policies strike at the heart of consumers' right of communication.
In some countries, some broadband providers discriminate against particular Internet content, services or platforms. In general, consumer interests favour an open Internet without any such restrictions, and with symmetrical download and upload speeds where possible.
Help us by taking the this survey on broadband services.