Broadband label discussion on tap at FCC

Consumer information labels finally could be coming to the broadband marketplace, as the Federal Communications Commission later this month is scheduled to discuss a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to seek comment on the labels and plan for their implementation.

The FCC is acting on an order in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law by President Biden in November. The FCC’s agenda for its January meeting stated that the new law directs the FCC “to promulgate regulations to require the display of broadband consumer labels, to disclose to consumers information regarding broadband Internet access service plans.” 

This month’s re-booting of the broadband label discussion comes almost six years after the FCC released its Open Internet Order, which among other things called for the introduction of consumer information labels for broadband similar to the nutritional labels found on food packaging. The labeling initiative died a year later along with Net Neutrality hopes when the Trump-era FCC narrowly voted to overturn the earlier order.

Instead of calories-per-serving details, broadband labels would contain detailed information about service pricing, such as whether the price listed is an introductory rate and what the consumer will have to pay for the service after an initial promotional period ends.

The point-of-sale labels also would contain information about a service provider’s data allowances, broadband speeds, and management practices, among other things. In this month’s meeting, FCC commissioners also will discuss whether or not consumers’ broadband usage practices have changed enough to prompt any modifications to the label format or content.

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The rulemaking also would have the agency seek comment on where the labels should be displayed to best inform consumers; on “enforcement issues related to the label requirement, including how the Commission should ensure the accuracy of label content”; and other label display and implementation issues, according to the meeting agenda.

While numerous studies over the years have highlighted consumer concerns about confusing broadband pricing policies, the measures called for in the new law could face hurdles at the FCC, as the agency remains one commissioner short of a full voting group, with current membership split evenly along party lines.