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Genachowski: Technology Is Confusing

Hence FCC’s ‘Consumer Empowerment Agenda’

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski discussed “The FCC’s Consumer Empowerment Agenda” in a speech before the Center for American Progress this week.

Several consumer groups were represented in the audience, including Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America, the National Consumers League and Consumer Action. Genachowski said these groups give a voice to “millions of Americans who can’t afford to hire a lobbyist,” according to his prepared remarks.

“Virtually every day, new devices and services are becoming available. And America’s appetite for these new offerings appears to be insatiable. The number of wireless subscriptions is up to 293 million. The variety and capabilities of smartphones is incredible,” stated the chairman.

“The more devices we buy, the more services we subscribe to, the more perplexing it can be for consumers. Instead of tracking minutes used, something intuitive — consumers are being asked to track megabytes of data consumed. How many people even know what a megabyte is?” he asked rhetorically, referring to the data plans being revised by some wireless phone carriers.

The FCC’s Consumer Empowerment Agenda is focused on harnessing technology and transparency to give consumers with the information they need to make smart decisions and to make the market work, he explained.

The agency’s work on the national broadband plan revealed that four out of five consumers don’t know the speed of their home broadband connection, and many consumers experience Internet speed in their homes that’s as low as half of the advertised speeds, he said. In March, as RW reported, the FCC released a tool on its website that allows consumers to test their broadband speeds — both on their computers and their smartphones. To date, more than 1.5 million people have used the speed test tool, he added.

Last week, there were several reports that alleged Verizon Wireless mistakenly charged mystery fees to more than 15 million consumers, resulting in overcharges of more than 50 million dollars.

The FCC will soon hold a public forum on unexpected phone charges and related issues, noted the chairman. On Thursday, the commission released analysis of so-called “bill-shock.” The FCC in May released a Public Notice asking if there are any technical or other reasons wireless carriers cannot implement basic “bill shock” protections, he said.