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Senators aim to cut through 4G baloney

New bill would require wireless carriers to disclose what to expect from their 4G service...and create a lot more small print in our lives.

A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday would compel wireless carriers to be more forthcoming about what exactly customers can expect from services marketed as 4G.

The bill from Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, along with Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal--all Democrats--is similar to the "Next Generation Wireless Disclosure Act," which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in June by Palo Alto Democrat Anna Eshoo.

Together the lawmakers are aiming to cut through the marketing mishmash that slaps the 4G label on a handful of next-generation network flavors such as LTE, HSPA+, and WiMAX. True 4G, as originally defined with speeds of 100mbps, is nowhere in sight for U.S. consumers. But that hasn't stopped carriers from advertising networks capable of only a fraction of that speed as such.

So these politicians are teaming up to take on the 4G issue in an old-school legislative fashion--by proposing more regulation.

Among other things, the bills would require carriers to disclose guaranteed minimum data speed, network reliability, and network conditions that can impact the speed of applications and services used on the network.

If passed and signed into law, it would also require the Federal Communications Commission to evaluate the speed of 4G data service for the top 10 U.S. wireless carriers.

"Wireless providers need to make sure their customers can count on the speed, reliability, and the price they were promised when they signed up," said Franken in a statement.

Not surprisingly, the wireless industry is not super-thrilled with the notion.

"This bill proposes to add an additional layer of regulation to a new and exciting set of services, while ignoring the fact that wireless is an inherently complex and dynamic environment in which network speeds can vary depending on a wide variety of factors, such as weather, terrain and foliage," says Jot Carpenter with CTIA-The Wireless Association.

Valid points from all sides on this one, it seems. Carriers have been basically calling whatever they want 4G for a while now--to the point that the term has become more or less meaningless. Calling a network 4G in the American context is now about as descriptive and unhelpful as calling a computer a PC. But the proposed regulations would likely only add to all the small print in our lives without providing much real information.

Having the FCC evaluate data speeds for all the carriers might be a little bit helpful, for a moment. Unfortunately, it won't actually mean much in the real world where network performance depends largely on the number of Beyonce-related tweets going out at the moment or how many feet of adobe bricks or cinder block are between your phone and the nearest cell tower.

Why don't we just skip the arguments and call high-speed wireless data service what it really is--magic.