Goal is to keep buying public informed.

Recall the FCC’s shock, last June, at discovering that 80% of Americans do not know their broadband speeds. It took almost a year, but the FCC is now striving to bring the light of knowledge into the darkness of consumer ignorance. Its lantern of truth (we’ll stop the metaphor soon) is a public notice.

What information, asks the FCC, should providers supply to consumers? The Commission proposes not just the usual megabits-per-second, but matters like latency, jitter, peak-hour performance, and short-term speed increases. (The public notice does not explain these.) Which of these kinds of data should broadband providers disclose? Should the information come in standardized formats? How often should it be updated? And so forth. Read the details here.

We suspect the people who care about latency and jitter probably know how to ask about it. But most of us – are you sitting down, FCC? – most of us just don’t care.

Broadband service has become a utility, like electricity, gas, water, telephone, or cable. The average consumer has no interest in how many gallons per minute his water service can deliver. The water either works, or it doesn’t. Ditto for electricity, gas, and so on. We care mightily when any of these fails, including broadband service. But as long as it stays on, and more or less meets our needs, the technical details are of little concern.

We do have a couple of suggestions for the FCC. Although to most people reliability matters more than latency or jitter, it is not in the FCC’s proposed list of disclosures. It should be, with significant rate rebates when outages go over the advertised limit. We also want to see an absolute, unconditional ban on the phrase “up to” in ads for broadband speeds. Providers can specify a minimum, or a range, or a guaranteed average, but claiming speeds “up to” some number is just an exercise in creative writing.

Those wishing to respond to the FCC’s public notice should file comments by May 26, 2011, and reply comments by June 16, 2011.