FCC Rulemaking Will Require New Broadband Labels

By: Andrew Regitsky

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which became law in November requires the FCC to develop regulations for ISP broadband labels. The goal of these labels is to disclose information to consumers regarding broadband Internet access service plans, including whether the offered price is an introductory rate and, if so, the price the consumer will be required to pay following the introductory period.

In response, at its upcoming January 27, 2022, meeting, the Commission is expected to release a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in Docket 22-2 and do the following:

The agency will propose to require that fixed and mobile broadband Internet access service providers display, at the point of sale, labels to disclose to consumers certain information about prices, introductory rates, data allowances, broadband speeds, and management practices, among other things.

Specifically, labels for fixed broadband services must include information on pricing; monthly data allowance; overage charges; equipment fees; other monthly fees; one-time fees; and early termination fees. They must also include information on performance (speed, latency, and packet loss) and on network management practices.

Labels for mobile broadband services must include information on pricing; when you exceed the data allowance; other included services/features; other monthly fees; one-time fees; service contract terms; early termination fees; and “bring your own device” information. They must also include performance information (speed, latency, and other services on the network) and network management practices.

Both the fixed and mobile broadband labels must include a link to the provider’s privacy policy and a link to how to file complaints and inquiries

Notably, the Commission, consistent with the Infrastructure Act, proposes to continue to use labels that it allowed ISPs to use as a safe harbor to comply with broadband transparency requirements in 2016.

However, it asks whether broadband service offerings and consumers’ use of broadband services have changed sufficiently since 2016 to necessitate modifications to the labels’ content and/or format, or whether there are any other reasons to change the content or format of the labels?

The FCC also quires the industry as to whether the 2016 labels meet the new requirement that labels disclose whether the broadband price is an introductory price and what the regular price will be.

It seeks comments on whether and how to include information about the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) as part of the broadband labels.

The Commission asks if it should adopt a “direct notification” requirement for changes to terms in the labels? If so, how should providers notify consumers directly of any changes in terms of service or of any other changes to the information contained in the labels displayed to consumers when they purchased service? Should the agency adopt a timeframe within which providers must make such notifications? Should it require that the notifications be sent in advance of the changes taking effect? If so, how far in advance?

The Commission seeks industry comments on where the labels should be displayed to best inform consumers. It proposes to require ISPs to display the labels at the point of sale prominently displayed in a manner that is easily accessible to consumers. At a minimum, labels must be presented to consumers on an ISP’s website.

The agency will seek comments on enforcement issues related to the label requirement, including how the Commission should ensure the accuracy of label content.

It will seek comments on implementation issues, including the time by which broadband providers should be required to display the labels.

Finally, the Commission will propose to ensure that any required labels are accessible to persons with disabilities and that any broadband consumer label advances equity in the provision of and access to digital communications services and products for all people of the United States, without discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or disability.

Once the NPRM is released (on January 27, 2022, or soon after), industry comments will be due 30 days after it appears in the Federal Register.