FCC launching broadband consumer labels: Larger ISPs required to display them starting Wednesday

Shown is a sample list of broadband facts that internet service providers will be required to provide to consumers for their service starting Wednesday.

HOUGHTON — Internet service providers offering standalone broadband access are required to provide new consumer labels for their service starting Wednesday.

The labels, which resume the nutritional labels on food products, will be required at the point of sale, both online and in stores for large ISPs. All standalone home or fixed internet service will be required to have the labels, along with mobile broadband plans. 

They will display broadband prices, speeds, details about the introductory rates and data allowances. They will also provide links providing more information about available discounts or service bundles, network management practices and privacy policies. 

“This new and important tool empowers consumers with clear, consistent, easy to understand and accurate information about current Internet service offering and allows them to make an informed choice that best meets their household needs and their long-term budget,” Alejandro Roark, chief of the FCC Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau, said during a conference call Tuesday. 

The new requirement will initially only apply to large providers. Starting Oct. 10, it will expand to providers with under 100,000 subscribers. By the same date, the labels must also be machine-readable so third parties can more easily aggregate the data to facilitate comparison shopping, the FCC said. 

Where an associated plan is advertised, the label must be displayed nearby, the FCC said in its announcement of the policy. 

ISPs must also make the labels accessible on a consumer’s online account, Roark said. 

“Consumers will be able to find this information whenever they pay their bill, compare their current plan to other plans, or engage in any other activity online,” he said. 

The FCC began exploring broadband consumer labels in 2015, Roark said. They were authorized as part of the Broadband Infrastructure Law, which was approved last year. The law gave the FCC one year to establish the regulations requiring the labels, along with holding public hearings to determine whether the requirements then in place were enough to enable consumers to make informed choices.

Jon Donenberg, deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, said the new disclosures were aimed at making it easier for consumers to find the best deals and to root out junk fees

“We know that for many consumers, this lack of upfront transparency means that the price they ultimately end up paying on their monthly bill can be much higher than they thought it would be,” he said. “So the broadband nutrition label is a tool that can help consumers. It will make sure that you have a clear straightforward explanation of your home internet and mobile plans and services before you sign up for anything.”

Donenberg also called for the extension of the Affordable Connectivity Program, which can reduce monthly bills by up to $30, or up to $75 on qualified tribal lands. About 23 million people are subscribed to that program, Donenberg said. The FCC has said existing funding for the program will expire by the end of April. An enrollment freeze was enacted in February. 

He called on Congressional Republicans to back the renewal, echoing recent remarks by President Joe Biden. 

“If they don’t, millions of their own constituents will be at risk of seeing their internet costs go up, or the internet quality go down,” he said. “They might even lose access entirely when the program runs out of money at the end of April.”

In a letter to the FCC last December, several high-ranking Republicans, such as U.S. Sens. John Thune and Ted Cruz, contested the need for renewal, calling it part of Biden’s “reckless spending spree.” They said around 80% of the people enrolled already had broadband access before the program. 

The initial rules for the broadband labels had required providers to give information  about their participation in the ACP. 

Questions Wednesday in a conference call about the labels focused on the process of ensuring compliance from ISPs, and the consequences for not doing so. The FCC draws on consumer complaints, partner agencies flagging issues and other investigative processes, an FCC representative said. The FCC also has legal authority to impose money forfeiture if companies are found to be in violation, the representative said.


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