Senate gets its version of Eshoo’s 4G bill

Three U.S. Senate Democrats introduced a bill today that mirrors legislation introduced in June by a Bay Area House member to make wireless providers give complete, accurate information about their 4G wireless data services in their ads and sales practices.

The Next Generation Wireless Disclosure Act by U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Al Franken, D-Minn., parallels the earlier bill, HR 2281, by Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto.

“Consumers deserve to know exactly what they’re getting when they sign up for a two year wireless data plan,” Eshoo, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee, said today. “Consumers want faster and faster phones, and demand for 4G is only going to increase. But they also deserve to know the truth about the speeds they’re actually getting. Wireless companies advertise 4G service as ‘lightning fast’ and ‘super-charged,’ but that’s not always the case. My legislation is simple – it will require truth in advertising.”

She said she’s proud to see Blumenthal and Franken – both of whom sit on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law – along with Klobuchar introduce the bill’s Senate version. “With their help, we can make sure that consumers have all the information they need to make an informed choice about which wireless data service to purchase.”

At the moment, 4G wireless broadband internet is in the eye of the beholder: With no standard definition, the four major wireless companies can advertise different technology as “4G” despite speeds that differ vastly depending on provider and location. The legislation would force them to disclose guaranteed minimum data speed, network reliability, coverage area maps, pricing, the technology used to provide 4G service and network conditions that can impact speed on all of their point-of-sale marketing and advertising as well as on all billing materials.

The bills also would require the Federal Communications Commission to evaluate the speed and price of 4G wireless data service provided by the top ten U.S. wireless carriers, so consumers can see a side-by-side comparison in their own service areas.

“When consumers purchase a 4G wireless plan, they have the right to know exactly what they’re getting for their money,” Klobuchar said today. “This legislation will help ensure that wireless companies are honest about their product’s capabilities so consumers can get a fair deal.”

Consumer advocate groups are all about this legislation.

“The Eshoo bill will empower consumers who are shopping for wireless broadband service,” Consumers Union policy counsel Parul Desai had said in June. “It will help people cut through the clutter so we can compare prices and options, and we can better understand what really constitutes 4G data service. Right now, there aren’t a lot of consumer protections for mobile broadband customers, and the Eshoo bill would help ensure consumers have certain rights and information when they sign up for a plan.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.