New York State and Tim Wu Probe Broadband Providers' 'Extreme' Ad Claims

State Attorney General's Office Scrutinizes Verizon, Time Warner and Cablevision

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Three major U.S. broadband providers claiming to offer super-fast Internet connections may be delivering service that is slower than advertised, New York State's top legal official said.

Verizon Communications, Time Warner Cable, and Cablevision Systems are facing a probe from state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman into whether they are living up to their promises of blazing-fast speeds that allow customers to download movies, music and TV shows and to perform other web-enabled activities almost instantaneously.

In letters dated Oct. 23, Mr. Schneiderman's new senior enforcement counsel, Tim Wu, told the providers that he is "specifically concerned about the disruptions to the consumer experience caused by interconnection disputes," which can occur when one company's service must pass through another company's wires and other infrastructure.

There is a "possibility that interconnection arrangements may in some instances render irrelevant any benefit" of paying for a "premium" option such as Verizon's Fios, Time Warner Cable's "Extreme" and "Ultimate" offerings and Cablevision's "Optimum Online Ultra" choices, said Mr. Wu, whose appointment was announced last month.

Speed gap
The U.S. lags behind other developed countries in Internet speed, and federal officials have blamed interconnection issues as one possible culprit. Service in the U.S. also tends to be more expensive than in other countries at given rates of speed, according to a 2014 policy paper by the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute.

"Many of us may be paying for one thing, and getting another," Mr. Schneiderman said in a statement. "Families pay a huge cost already for Internet access in New York, so I will not tolerate a situation in which they aren't getting what they have been promised."

Mr. Wu, a prominent open-internet policy advocate known for coining the term "net neutrality," warned the companies that actual performance of broadband service "may deviate far enough from the speeds advertised to render the advertising deceptive."

In one of his first major initiatives since joining Mr. Schneiderman's team and taking a leave of absence from his post as a professor at Columbia Law School, Mr. Wu requested a lengthy list of documents including detailed performance metrics, sales- employee training materials and information on interconnection agreements and policies.

Compliance deadline
The state attorney general can take legal action against companies over deceptive business practices. The companies have until Nov. 8 to comply with the requests.

Many U.S. markets have only one option for high-speed internet service, according to an analysis by Consumerist.com using data gathered through the government's National Broadband Map project. In cities where multiple providers operate, there is often little or no overlap in service areas, Consumerist found.

New York City is a competitive market, and broadband companies battle for customers by offering ever-better speeds to handle a proliferation of networked devices such as computers, video game systems and internet-enabled televisions.

Verizon option
For example, Verizon tells customers that one of its service options is "great for 8 devices"and allows users to "upload large files to the cloud, perform quicker back-ups and play competitive multi-player gaming."

Cablevision says its "Optimum Online Ultra 101" plan can allow customers to "send super-large attachments you never could before," download a song in a fraction of a second or a television show-sized video in half a minute.

Time Warner Cable's "Ultimate 100" broadband service promises customers enough speed to "upload large files" and "enjoy power gaming and streaming multiple videos simultaneously," according to the company's website.

-- Bloomberg News